New group to draft future organic plan
An organic sector strategy group has begun meeting. The 18-person group, drawn from the conventional and organic sectors, has these following terms of reference: To review implementation of the 2013-2015 action plan, and in particular identify what worked well and what did not;
To assess the case for a targeted reopening of the Organic Farming Scheme, looking to best economic and environmental outcomes; To draft a five to sevenyear strategic plan for the development of the organic sector, with sectoral and cross-sectoral proposals, market developments, training and education, public awareness and EU policy. The group comprises members of the main farming organisations the IFA, ICSA and ICMSA and state bodies Teagasc, BIM, Bord Bia, and the Department of Agriculture.
It is also made up of processors and agri-food businesses with an interest in organic — Aurivo, Irish Country Meats, Flahavans — and those primarily or exclusively organic — the good Herdsman, Glenisk. The two min cert bodies — IOFAM and Organic Trust are there too, while Padraig Fahy, large organic horticulturalist and member of IOFGA, is there as Beechlawn Organic Farm. (The ICSA representative is from its organics committee). The relevant minister for the organic sector Andrew Doyle said at the launch: “The market for Irish organic produce continues to grow each year and is currently valued at €162m. If you add other activities such as farmers’ markets and online sales, the estimated value is over €200m. While there are challenges, there is definitely scope for further growth given the market demand.”
It is remarkable then, that, if they are such an important part of the equation, there is no representative of consumers on such a group. Neither consumers nor organic consumers have a seat at the table. While it could be said that EU consumers are represented by Bord Bia, to some extent, this doesn’t mean Irish con- sumer representation. And there are certainly areas where more Irish organic food could be made available for consumers in Ireland. It’s also noteworthy that BIM have two representatives, whereas hill farmers, as an example, have none. Organic can suit farmers in hilly regions, but sometimes, the way the rules for stocking rate are interpreted, they carry too few animals to be considered allowable as certified organic.
With group certification options coming in in 2021, there may be a creative way for co-ops or producer groups to develop a process for member certifications. An argument could be made for farmers with higher stocking rates on one farm compensating for those who have lower stocking rates on another — within a co-op or producer group context — post-2021.
But who will prioritise this without representation? Two representatives for BIM is a statement of intent — while many consumers and indeed smaller scale organic producers are uneasy with the idea and practice of organic fish farms, from a coastal rural and environmental impact perspective, having two reps from this sector is noteworthy. Indeed, the only horticulture representative is a large scale producer who exports and imports. While it’s good that horticulture is represented, what about the small to mid-sized producer and their interests?
Last week, we covered the German organic growth plans in their organic action plan. It was noteworthy how academics not aligned to state research institutions were centrally involved in developing this plan. There are no independent academic voices on this group, however. Regardless of who’s left out and in, and despite the areas of emphasis implicit in this, it is nonetheless good to see this latest reboot of what was previously the Organic Focus Group, and, prior to that, Foras Organach. Here’s hoping it achieves on a scale beyond what the previous incarnations did. This column will, of course, keep an key on its progress.
Organic farmer Padraig Fahy, Beechlawn, one of the members of the new organic sector strategy group tasked with reviewing the sector.