New group to draft fu­ture or­ganic plan

Irish Examiner - Farming - - COUNTRY LIVING - Oliver Moore oliv­er­

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.

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