Learning from others’ approaches

Last week a range of organisations involved in organic farming delivered a three hour information evening in three different locations.

A market overview was presented, including livestock/horticulture supply chains. Also outlined were supports, the registration process, and how the GLAS scheme relates to organic farming.

Hosted by the National Organic Training Skillnet, the two main certification bodies, Teagasc, the Department, Bord Bia, Leitrim Organic Farmers Coop and agricultural consultants were involved as panellists.

With a better supported organic farming scheme becoming available in 2015, the more farmers are informed about the realities of organic production the better.

Then Minister of State Trevor Sergeant brought in the now compulsory 5-6 week training scheme in 2007. This eminently sensible idea introduces farmers to the basics of organics.

It now seems bizarre that there was a time when farmers could just join without at least this.

So what can we learn from elsewhere in Europe about how to introduce farmers to organics?

Josef Finke of Ballybrado since 1983 but originally from Germany, informed me of an innovative approach in his native country. A range of German stakeholder — farming and state, have come up with a comprehensive system which has brought thousands of new farmers into their Organic Farming Scheme with the support of the German equivalent of the IFA.

Also involved are an organic agriculture trust and the agri-food departments of the German States.

Its aims are to:

Show farmers the opportunities offered by organic production

Advise and support farmers in conversion

Advise processors and traders on the availability of home grown organic goods

Join-up producers and processors

These latter two are markedly different to what is typically offered, but they are very doable.

An interesting aspect of the initiative is it offers free individual farm checks to establish the suitability and potential for organic conversion.

This service is financed by an agricultural pension fund and carried out by certification body nominated experts or special advisors from the agriculture and food development agencies.

It also runs workshops in individual farm enterprises, like dairying, calf rearing, pig production etc. These workshops are carried out by producers, working already practically in these areas.

The final aspect is a whopping 16 free individual one-to-one advice days per farm.

This approach is credited with bringing 1500 into organics in one year alone — who actually suit organics, and who have a good chance of doing well due to the contacts they have made in the business and the investigations done about their specific farm.

Another innovative approach, this time from Denmark, involves a conversion check. Again, the idea is to check if it makes sense for your farm to convert to organic.

This was introduced by a Danish retail chain called SuperBrugsen. A day’s profits from organic sales are dedicated to this process.

So in Denmark and Germany, retailers and mainstream famers unions are involved in a process which could lead certain farms to organic, if it simply makes more agronomic and economic sense for that farm to be organic than conventional.

The question remains: are the IFA, ICSA and ICMSA letting their members down by not doing the same in Ireland?


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