Advice for dairy farmers: Get efficient before thinking of organic milk

First essentials for successfully changing to organic dairy farming are that farmers are already very efficient non-organic farmers and that they can grow and manage clover swards successfully.

Unfortunately, some of the people who went into organic dairying did so because they were not very successful at non-organic dairying.

Others changed because they strongly believed in the concept of organic production.

Organic dairy production is much more expensive than conventional dairying, and a decent price premium is required for it to be profitable.

Farmers get paid a very good premium for five winter months, but a not so attractive price for the rest of the year.

Therefore, predominantly autumn calving is required for optimum profitability.

As regards other organic enterprises such as sheep and cattle, they are easier than organic dairying.

As most Irish sheep and cattle are finished off grass, they are the nearest thing that can be got to organic.

There has been a huge push toward organic production in the past few decades.

Teagasc has been supportive of organic production and has appointed organic advisers, and up skilling of staff has been carried out.

Despite claims to the contrary, organic food has little or no health benefits to offer over freshly produced non-organic Irish food produced under similar conditions and within normal health and food safety regulations.

There will always be a limited market for organic food in Ireland, and it is desirable that it should be supplied by home producers.

In recent years, organic production in Ireland has returned to growth and is now worth €136m which is about 1% of all food sales.

Organic produce will say on the fringes of Irish agriculture unless a significant export markets can be developed. Irish organic food has an excellent reputation abroad.

Despite a 2012 Government target of having 5% of agricultural land in organic production, we have less than 2%, with 1,800 producers, and 70% of these are cattle farmers.

Many producers are small-scale, part-time farmers.

When all applications into the new organic farming scheme launched in April have been processed, more than 1,600 organic farmers will be managing some 65,000 hectares of land.

In recent years, the organic sector got a much needed boost with the launch of an action plan to drive development of the sector.

If the organic sector can develop an export market for its products and get a slice of the multi billion euro EU organic market, it will give it a much needed boost, and an opportunity to grow, but continued favourable treatment from CAP/government schemes is essential.

The earliest adopters of organic production were in Sweden, Denmark and Finland, but the number of organic farms in these countries is not increasing.

Germany, France, Britain and Italy combined have most of the total organic food spending in the EU.

The EU market for organic produce has doubled over the last 10 years and is worth €24bn.

The largest markets are in Germany (€7.6bn), France (€4.8bn), the UK (€2.3bn), and Italy (€2.1bn).

There has been huge growth in organic production in France in recent years, with the help of large government support.

Land area in organic production in France doubled between 2007 and 2012, to 3.8%, with 36,000 farmers.

The French Government has set out a plan to again double the area in organic production by 2020, and is well on the way to achieving this.


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