Organic food retail market growing despite downturn, conference hears

THE retail market for organic food is still growing despite the difficult economic climate, a conference was told in Athlone yesterday.

Delegates at the Teagasc national organic conference heard that the market in Ireland for organic produce is now worth e104 million per year and over e16 billion in Europe.

The largest sales are in Germany, Britain, France and Italy. Organic produce also enjoys a high market share in Denmark, Austria, Switzerland and Sweden.

Dr Nic Lampkin, senior lecturer at Aberystwyth University, in Wales, said market growth is expected to continue but at a slower rate.

Over 80% of sales of organic produce go to regular and committed organic consumers.

He said there is a need for a strong unified voice for the organic industry, extolling the virtues of its products to consumers.

The conference was also told that poor prices for conventional farm produce, combined with high input costs, are forcing more farmers to explore organic farming.

Just over 1% of the land area in Ireland is devoted to organic production by 1,100 farmers. That is less than the EU average of 5%.

Government policy is to increase organic food production to 5% by 2012.

Teagasc organic specialist James McDonnell said the net margin from organic beef farming is on average higher than that obtained on conventional beef farms.

Organic milk production is financially attractive to farmers up to a stocking rate of 1.7 livestock units per hectare. Excellent margins can also be achieved from producing cereals organically on tillage farms.

Dan Clavin, another Teagasc organic specialist, outlined the financial planning needed before farmers convert to organic production.

The switch to organic farming may be the biggest farm management decision ever taken by an individual farmer.

Careful planning is essential, he said, pointing out that the vast majority of organic farmers have no regrets after converting.

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