Or­ganic is mov­ing swiftly from niche mar­kets to the main­stream

Pol­icy-mak­ers are fail­ing to keep up with con­sumer de­mand for or­ganic pro­duce, writes

Irish Independent - Farming - - ORGANICS -

CON­SUMER de­mand for or­ganic food is in­creas­ing glob­ally and is worth in ex­cess of €75bn, with all the main mar­kets grow­ing in dou­ble dig­its.

Just last week Swe­den re­leased fig­ures show­ing that de­mand for or­ganic food in­creased by more than 40pc in 2016, and this is an im­por­tant mar­ket for Ir­ish or­ganic prod­uct.

World­wide more farm­ers cul­ti­vate or­gan­i­cally and con­se­quently the land area cer­ti­fied has also risen to over 50 mil­lion hectares. How­ever, de­spite all of the ev­i­dence to the con­trary or­ganic is seen by some as a niche mar­ket.

Or­ganic prod­ucts of all kinds can now be found in most kitchens and house­holds around the coun­try in­di­cat­ing just how main­stream or­ganic has be­come.

Nu­mer­ous stud­ies have been con­ducted glob­ally on the buy­ing habits and de­mo­graph­ics of con­sumers of or­ganic food with a few key themes emerg­ing.

Con­sumers like or­gan­i­cally pro­duced food be­cause of their con­cerns re­gard­ing health, the en­vi­ron­ment and an­i­mal wel­fare, and their pur­chas­ing habits con­firm a will­ing­ness to pay the price pre­mi­ums es­tab­lished in the mar­ket­place.

While there are ob­vi­ous dif­fer­ences in shop­ping pat­terns across the globe the “en­try cat­e­gories” to or­gan­ics are the same, fruit, veg­eta­bles, dairy prod­ucts and eggs dom­i­nate all the ma­jor mar­kets.

In the United States $15.6bn (€13bn) worth of fruit and veg­eta­bles were sold in 2016, con­sti­tut­ing over 40pc of the en­tire sales of or­ganic food.

Here in Ire­land ac­cord­ing to Bord Bia re­search, sales of fruit and veg­eta­bles make up 34pc of the or­ganic mar­ket. This is good news for Ir­ish grow­ers who are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing in­creas­ing de­mand for the crops they are grow­ing and cli­mat­i­cally 2017 has been a good year for grow­ing hor­ti­cul­ture crops.

The chal­lenge with in­creased de­mand for hor­ti­cul­ture prod­ucts is the abil­ity to sup­ply the mar­ket. In Ire­land we im­port al­most 70pc of or­ganic fruit and veg­eta­bles sold here, that is some­thing that must change.

Like most other coun­tries the main threat to the con­tin­ued growth of the Ir­ish or­ganic mar­ket is not that con­sumers will stop pur­chas­ing or­ganic food, it is that de­mand is se­ri­ously be­gin­ning to out­strip sup­ply.

There are real op­por­tu­ni­ties for grow­ers, both es­tab­lished grow­ers and new en­trants to sub­sti­tute im­ports.

As stu­dents be­gin mak­ing their col­lege choices de­mand for agri­cul­ture cour­ses re­mains strong.

A ca­reer in hor­ti­cul­ture is very spe­cialised and it can be dif­fi­cult to at­tract peo­ple to the in­dus­try as it de­mands long hours, and re­quires high labour costs as it is labour in­ten­sive.

There are no de­gree cour­ses avail­able in or­ganic farm­ing or hor­ti­cul­ture in this coun­try which lim­its those choos­ing to go into the sec­tor.

De­spite that it is one of the ma­jor growth ar­eas in food pro­duc­tion.

Many peo­ple pur­chase food based on a value sys­tem, and or­ganic food fits well with con­sumer val­ues, and re­tail­ers are tak­ing note.

So too should pol­icy mak­ers and farm­ers — we need more or­ganic farm­ers and we need the gov­ern­ment to put a struc­ture in place to sup­port farm­ers who make the choice to farm or­gan­i­cally.

With an un­cer­tain fu­ture loom­ing due to Brexit we would be wise to look at where op­por­tu­ni­ties lie in agri­cul­ture, and our con­tin­ued de­pen­dence on im­port­ing hor­ti­cul­ture crops both or­ganic and con­ven­tional to meet do­mes­tic de­mand is clearly not sus­tain­able.

Lo­cal sup­ply is im­por­tant to Ir­ish con­sumers and we must en­sure that con­ti­nu­ity of sup­ply is avail­able in the va­ri­ety of re­tail out­lets used by grow­ers to sell their pro­duce.

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