OF the alternative enterprises tried by Irish farmers over the past two decades, organic production is one of the few to have stood the test of time.
In the 1980s, there were clear indicators in Britain and on the Continent of consumers preferring more naturally produced food — even at a higher cost.
Today, increasingly health-conscious consumers are prepared to pay more for organic.
Survey results indicate that a small percentage are willing to pay a decent premium for what they perceive to be naturally produced food with superior flavour, but the majority are not willing to change, if the cost is too high.
Junior Agriculture Minister Trevor Sargent has set a new target of 500,000 acres in organic production by 2012, representing 5% of farmland.
What may dissuade farmers from going organic is the poor rate of survival of new farm enterprises. There have been disappointing results from farming rabbits, deer and ostriches, for example.
Organic farming has proved more sustainable, for the small proportion of farmers involved. REPS and organic conversion payments for the initial years have helped them, and the capital costs have been small compared to other unsuccessful alternative farm enterprises.
Replacing the 70% of imported organic product is another organic target. Demand is growing, but it remains to be seen how many farmers can make a living from organic farming.
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