“Real, comprehensive support for the organic-farming sector; ambitious, impactful eco-schemes; and a new attitude to scrub and tree integration into farmlands” are three very clear ways in which Ireland can deal with the climate and biodiversity challenges that it faces.

This was the advice of Dr. Oliver Moore, from the Centre for Co-operative Studies in University College Cork; and ARC2020, a European think tank on agri-food policy matters.

Dr. Moore was addressing the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Environment and Climate Action this week, where he highlighted a number of areas within Ireland’s organic-farming sector that require additional supports.

In his address, he said that organics was a “brilliant all-rounder in the delivery of public goods”.

He explained:

“Research shows enhanced environmental benefits in the areas of biodiversity, landscape, soil, ground and surface water, climate and air, energy and reduced exposure to pesticides for workers and consumers.

And added:

“Research suggests organic farms can be more viable; provide 10-20% more employment per ha; provide an easier entry-point into farming for women; and have a younger age base.”

But the reality is that the supports are wholly insufficient and Dr. Moore described Ireland’s organic action plan as “unambitious” and “likely to fail to significantly grow the sector”.

He also revealed that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) dedicates just €15m of a €1.8bn budget directly to organic farming.

“Bord Bia dedicates about 2% of its budget to organic food promotion. In a context of a 5% (2020) or 7.5% (2030) target for organic utlisible land area (UAA), this is clearly far too low,” he said.

Although supports for organic farming are emerging from Europe – through the EU Organics Action Plan – a comprehensive new organic action plan is required in Ireland, he said.

Dr. Moore’s key recommendations for such a plan are as follows:

  • Far higher payment rates of about €500/ha for grassland systems, and proportionally more for arable (€600) and horticulture (€700), or priority access to other agri-environmental schemes;
  • Scoring prioritisation for direct-selling producers for entry to Organic Farming Scheme;
  • Immediate progress towards 7.5% of Bord Bia and 7.5% of DAFM budgets for organics, with 7.5% achieved by 2026;
  • Establishment of organic advocacy organisation, with initial funding of €150,000 per year;
  • Trial European Innovation Partnership (EIP) for conversion to organic using blockchain technology to achieve group organic certification as per the new organic regulation. Roll out of this approach on a regional basis by 2026. Market blockchain alignment thereafter;
  • Mandated, ringfenced and rising levels of organic public procurement with no conflation with Bord Bia Quality Assured.

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