Organic winners: Beef, dairy, tillage

Beef, dairy, and tillage seem to be the big winners in the Organic Action Plan 2019 to 2025. For beef, the plan aims to “increase organic cattle production from 0.8% of total cattle in 2016 to 1.6%”.

For tillage, “the aim is to increase the area under organic cereals and pulses from 2,426 hectares in 2017 to 5,000 hectares”.

Dairy is set to see a 10% annual increase, totalling 60% between now and 2025.

Other sectors see more modest proposals. Horticulture area is set to increase about 25%, from 524 hectares to 750; for sheep meat, the aim is simply to find a market for what’s currently produced in the organic system. Aquaculture will see growth from 20,000 to 26,000 tonnes. There are no growth figures given for poultry/eggs, notwithstanding the fact that there are 96,000 organic layers and 22,000 organic broilers in Ireland.

The words “pig” or “pork” do not appear in the 48-page document.

The plan is the work of the Organic Sector Strategy Group established in March 2018, drawn from leading figures in the organic and conventional sectors, the organic control bodies and farmer organisations, as well as the State agencies of Teagasc and the department’s organic unit.

The group was tasked with reviewing the previous plan, assessing the case for reopening the Organic Farming Scheme and, most importantly, “to draft a new five to seven year strategic plan for the development of the organic sector, including sectoral and cross-sectoral recommendations, market developments, training and education, public awareness and wider EU policy”.

It is noteworthy that post-2020 the aim is to “apply selection criteria to Organic Farming Scheme application process annually and limit to a fixed annual budget to increase potential for scheme to open more frequently over the Rural Development Programme period”.

This goes some way to addressing the fact that the Organic Farming Scheme has been closed far more often than it’s been opened in recent years.

The report states: “The group considered that there is sufficient justification to reopen the Organic Farming Scheme from 2019, targeted at areas for which there is a clear market demand and which are critical to the further development of the organic sector namely horticulture, cereals and dairy.”

Post-2020 “the inclusion of an Organic Farming Scheme in a new Rural Development Programme was considered essential to stimulate and support increased organic food production”.

To achieve this “the need for higher conversion payments in the case of dairy and tillage was highlighted”. The report adds: “Market research on the current requirements for animal feed indicates that there is requirement in the region of 23,000 tonnes annually excluding aquaculture.”

For dairy, the two-year conversion period is emphasised as an area where payment rates should be higher, to encourage entrants.

Horticulture makes up 34% of the organic market, yet there is a 70% rate of imports in this sector.

Again, payment increases are suggested in the report: “The payment rate should be significantly further enhanced for small-scale horticulture producers.”

There was discussion on a “tapering off” of a higher rate over five years versus the current system of two years conversion with three years maintenance. However, with CAP and Rural Development Programme uncertainty, no decision was put forward on this until further clarity becomes available. “In any event it was suggested that selection criteria should be applied annually, and the Organic Farming Scheme application process limited to a fixed annual budget to avoid all monies being consumed in the first year of the programming period and to enable the scheme to be open more frequently over the lifetime of the Rural Development Programme,” the report says.

Next week we critically asses the strategy.

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