National Organic Week brings lots of optimism

A BUSY National Organic Week has left the sector buzzing. Plenty of well attended events, some new research, promising policy developments and upcoming opportunities have emerged.

Early on in the week the Picnic in the Park in Portumna was a very positive event, attracting many in the in the Galway, north Tipperary, and West Offaly region, looking for an enjoyable day out.

It came across as a cross between an agricultural show and an eat-in for foodies, enjoyed by a not-so-alternative attendance.

Slow Food, the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association, and IOFGA were the main organisers, and many local food businesses chipped in.

All the traders who attended were certified organic, and they all sold out of their food very early. The location was stunning, and the activities ranged from informative and inspiring forest walks led by Andrew St Ledger of the Woodland League, to detailed discussions with Pat Barry and Mary Lynch on converting to organic farming.

Full of positivity and great food, an event like this is as useful an introduction to organic farming and food as a farm walk or a course.

At the National Organic Awards, it was interesting to be in a room full of businesses and agency workers who seemed quite positive about the future. Minister of State Ciarán Cuffe’s speech pointed towards a renewed Green public procurement initiative, incorporating organic produce.

The market’s message was mixed, according to Cuffe. “The Irish organic market is estimated to be worth about €95 million this year, compared to €66m in 2006. Admittedly, the figure is down from last year, but the decrease is more in value than in volume, and the trend is more or less the same as we see in the conventional sector”.

“Despite this, some sectors have bucked the trend. For example, organic yoghurt has shown a 24% growth in volume, and dairy is an area that is largely supplied by domestic production.”

Bor Bia’s research findings, released during National Organic Week, include 33% of Irish grocery shoppers purchasing an organic product in the past week, up 2% on the 2008 figure.

Bord Bia found the volume of sales steady, and 30% of the consumers were purchasing more organic food than they did last year, while 62% were buying the same amount of organic food.

The possible appointment of an organic horticulture advisor was flagged at the Teagasc National Organic Conference in Birr last Thursday, which would be a positive and much needed development, because there is significant interest in and need for dedicated organic horticulture advisory services.

Good news for cattle and sheep farmers emerged from John Purcell of the Good Herdsman, speaking at the Teagasc event. He said the industry needs an extra 6,000 organic cattle to make a strong presence on the European market.

Purcell also pointed out that by introducing a branded organic export product, the organic steakhouse range, Good Herdsman was able to secure a price premium and avoid a commodity race to the bottom and competition with South American beef.

Winter finishing off green forage offers lamb producers some opportunities too, according to Purcell. He said that if 4,000 to 5,000 winter lambs were finished, processors would find European markets for them.

All in all, plenty of positivity. Here’s hoping it is built upon.


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