The Green Party has called upon the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, to re-open the Organic Farming Scheme (OFS).
The re-opening of the scheme would allow thousands of farmers interested in converting to organic farming to do so; in order to avail of the continuously increasing market opportunities in the sector, the Green Party said.
It was then confirmed that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine would not be re-opening the Organic Farming Scheme for new organic farmers.
The OFS has been closed since 2015; this is despite the fact that demand for organic produce in the EU has doubled in the past 10 years, as well as the fact that there has been a 30% increase in the Irish market for organic food in the past four years, the Green party said.
The decision not to re-open the OFS has been described as “counter-intuitive” by the Green Party Spokesperson on Agriculture, Pippa Hackett.
“This is totally counter-intuitive, and one would have to seriously question the wisdom of Minister Creed and his advisors on their lack of ambition to embrace this premium market which is financially lucrative for our farmers.
“Regrettably, Ireland is wallowing at the bottom of yet another league table in Europe.
Eurostat data indicates that the EU average for agricultural land in organic production is 6%, with Austria topping the table at 20%, and Ireland stagnating second from last at less than 2%.
“It is clear that Minister Creed cares little for the future of organic farming.
“By not offering our farmers the option to farm organically, he is doing a disservice not only to Irish agriculture, but also to Irish consumers who will now have to rely on imported organic produce, Hackett said.
The demand for organic produce has increased significantly in recent years, on the back of consumers becoming “increasingly conscious” about where their food comes from and how it is produced, she added.
“Consumers are attracted to the nutritional benefits of organic food, as well as the environmentally-friendly ways in which it is farmed.
Research indicates that organic farms have significantly more biodiversity, improved water quality, higher animal welfare standards, and with overall positive effects on climate change mitigation, it is win-win all the way.
“We have a unique opportunity to be leaders in organic production; but all we are doing is trailing behind our peers and unfortunately the knock on effects of this government’s decision will be felt for years to come,” Hackett said.
Demand outweighing supply
At a recent meeting of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine, it was reported that the demand for organic produce in Ireland is currently outweighing supply.
The meeting was organised to discuss the challenges within the organic farming sector. Demand has risen to levels well above those in recent memory, according to the CEO of Organic Trust Helen Scully.
“In 25 years we have never seen the demand we are seeing now, but this demand will be filled by imports if we don’t fill it,” she cautioned.