FARMERS were urged by Minister of State Ciarán Cuffe yesterday to seize the opportunities that exist in the organic sector.
He also called on farmers to recognise the real potential of organic farming to provide them with a sustainable income and a promising future.
Mr Cuffe, speaking at the Teagasc national organic conference in Birr, Co Offaly, said there is plenty of scope for Irish producers of organic vegetables, fruit and cereals to replace imports with what they grow themselves.
“Our main processors tell us that they cannot even meet the existing demand, particularly for beef, from countries like Germany with a €5.85 billion organic market and Britain with a £1.85bn (€2.2bn) organic market,” he said.
Mr Cuffe said the most compelling picture within the Food Harvest 2020 report which maps out policy for the next 10 years is one of opportunity.
“The report highlights the opportunity for the Irish agri-food industry to grow and prosper sustainbly through the delivery of high-quality, safe and naturally-based produce,” the minister said.
“The Irish organic sector is a forerunner in this regard and is therefore in a prime position to achieve further growth in the years ahead,” Mr Cuffe said.
Teagasc organic adviser Pat Barry said there are now 1,632 organic producers in Ireland farming a total area of 52,390 hectares, representing about 1.2% of the total agricultural area.
The Irish organic food market is estimated to be worth €90 million with fruit and vegetables accounting for 35% of total sales and yoghurt accounting for over 17%.
Over 1,500 farmers have attended farm walks organised by Teagasc this year, demonstrating organic farming in practice.
Teagasc director, Professor Gerry Boyle, said an increase in organic land use to 5% from the current level of just over 1% is ambitious.
It will require actions in a number of areas including promotion, marketing, innovation, research, and product development.
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