A “twin-track approach” is needed to maximise the potential for the organic farming sector here, according to the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers’ Association (ICSA).

Fergal Byrne, the association’s organics chairperson, said that this should entail an expanded organics scheme as well as a push for new international markets for organic products.

“At present, we have approximately 2,000 organic farmers utilising just 1.5% of our total agricultural land. This is far too low and nowhere near in line with an expected shift in EU policy that would demand up to 25% of agricultural land to be farmed organically by 2030, as part of its Farm-to-Fork Strategy,” Byrne highlighted.

It is very apparent that we need to introduce a far more ambitious organics scheme that would include far greater numbers of cattle and sheep farmers.

“In parallel with this, a drive to secure adequate markets for our produce is vital. As it is, we are struggling to find markets for what is produced on just 1.5% of land, and achieve a return for the extra costs associated with farming organically,” he added.

Byrne noted that, currently, “prices for organic cattle have slumped considerably, and with no let-up in organic feed input or other costs, any added value we should be getting for our stock has all but disappeared”.

“We cannot expect farmers to adopt new methods and increase their costs if the end price is just not there,” he insisted.

Organic produce, particularly organic beef and lamb, are high in nutrients and a rich source of natural antibodies.

“It is beyond comprehension that other countries have harnessed these attributes and expanded organic production and brought markets with them, yet we are falling so far behind,” the ICSA organics chair argued.

“We know farmers are willing to get on-board but we also need to see a concerted effort from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine; from Bord Bia; and from our meat processors to drive this sector forward,” Byrne concluded.

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