A new, dynamic group of organic farmers from the Midwest, called, aptly enough, the Limerick and Tipperary Organic Farmers Group have begun holding meetings in recent months.
The group has three aims:
gaining access to relevant information and data.
establishing a local/ regional network of organic farmers, processors and service providers.
providing group representation, where necessary.
A group meeting was held on January 18 at Ballykisteen, Co Tipperary, where the main focus was on how the sector will adapt to a large increase in both numbers of farmers and in livestock to be processed.
The attendance of 90 or so from as far afield as Cork and Galway, included Minister of State Tom Hayes, farmers, representatives of the Department’s Organic Unit, the certification bodies, and the main organic meat processors, Good Herdsmen and Slaney Meats.
It became clear that numbers are up, with Minister Hayes pointing to 650 new Organic Farming Scheme entrants in 2015.
Joan Furlong of the Organic Unit noted that there are currently 1,175 full symbol organic farmers and 226 processors, and Department figures suggest that there are 33,000 suckler and dry stock organic animals registered at present.
Leakage of organic animals into the conventional sector is running at over twice the rate for sheep (22%) as for cattle.
Most interest was reserved, however for what the processors had to say.
Of these, Good Herdsmen were more upbeat.
Slaney slaughter 50 plus animals per week, and expect an additional 7,000 animals per year, or 130 per week, coming on stream.
This they saw as a significant challenge, although new markets were opening up in the US and Canada.
John Purcell of Good Herdsmen said the company slaughtered 5,500 cattle in 2015 (15% up on 2914) and 3,500 lambs
He sees growth in their European markets, especially Germany, France, Denmark and Sweden, but not the Netherlands, the UK or the US.
Beef consumption is down 3% in the UK ,he noted.
Cow beef and calves would also cater for some small but growing markets.
Cow beef will be processed roughly one day per month.
Following questions with respect to re-opening a market for calves, Mr Purcell expected this would be small during 2016 (about 300 cattle) and would increase toabout 2,000 animals in 2017
Capacity-wise, he suggested that Good Herdsmen are confident they can consume an additional 100 plus cattle if available now.
However, sporadic supply was cited as a concern.
Questions from the floor included references to new tillage farmers not being catered for within the 2016 organic farming scheme, and the shortage of Irish-grown cereal availability.
A question was raised concerning the impact of ABP’s equity investment within Good Herdsmen and its joint venture plans with Slaney Foods.
John Purcell sought to reassure farmers that each processor’s sites are run independently as stand-alone profit centres.
As ever, there were numerous questions about payments.
Some queried the crossover between GLAS and organic scheme payments, and the lack of benefit in the organic farming scheme.
This was refuted by Joan Furlong who pointed to the numbers joining the scheme.
There were also questions with respect to payment dates for 2015 subsidies.
A department representative pointed out that farmers have received 85% of outstanding payments, and that exceptions concern issues with paperwork.
However, it’s surely a good sign that not all the talk was about subsidy payments.
Indeed, there is justifiable hope for the organic movement with this sort of broad approach to developing the capacity of everyone involved (with thanks to Thomas Finucane of the Limerick Tipperary Organic Farmers Group).
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