Ireland’s organic farming area is expected to “increase significantly” from October when the Organic Farming Scheme (OFS) re-opens, according to Department of Agriculture organics senior inspector Jack Nolan.
Nolan said that the Department’s target percentage of land in organics or under conversion is 3.5% this year, climbing from the 2% (110,00ha) currently in the system.
At this, he said: “We think we’re going to be really successful.”
Ireland has a target of reaching 7.5% within the programme for government. However, this is still some way off the European average, which has recently climbed to 9%.
The Department representative was speaking at the 125th Teagasc Signpost webinar on Friday morning alongside Teagasc organic specialist Joe Kelleher.
The online event had strong attendance from farmers and their advisers and focused on the market prospects, payments and environmental benefits of organic farming.
The OFS opens next month and will provide drystock farmers with increased payment rates of €300/ha when in conversion and €250/ha after two years.
Dairy farmers are set to receive €350/ha while in conversion and €300/ha thereafter, while tillage farmer payments will be €320/ha and €270/ha respectively.
These payments will be made to organic farmers in addition to their basic payments and schemes such as ACRES.
Nolan described how there has been a tripling of attendance at organic farm walks since the beginning of the year and said that, overall, there “seems to be a good headwind behind it”.
He said the work of Teagasc, Bord Bia and the Department has led to a “huge amount of publicity” around organic farming and suggested that, while “we’re not going to go 100% organic”, more and more farmers are interested in organics as a viable farm system.
The Department official said this interest is based off farmers looking to reduce costs and farm in a more sustainable manner.
He said that in organic farming, there is demand for produce, farmers are “content” and they can make a “good standard of living”.
Nolan said that organic farming is about “reducing the money going out of the farm gate”. He said that in a year where fertiliser costs have increased, it's about “reducing or eliminating altogether the fertiliser bill”.
The use of soil management, lime, multi-species swards and clover were demonstrated during the webinar as a means to growing sufficient fodder without the need for chemical fertiliser.
“In organic farming, the ideal aim is to finish animals on red clover silage over winter,” the Department inspector said.
However, he acknowledged that organic farming is dependent on weather and conditions and said that with red clover swards, “you won’t have grass in early spring”.
For this reason, he said organic farmers need to keep silage “buffers” to provide additional feeding for animals as required.
Pausing on hedgerow management on organic and traditional farms, Nolan said: “You don’t have to cut 2ft off every hedge on 1 September each year. It’s OK to have a hedgerow that isn’t tidy.”
He said improved management of hedgerows leads to better habitat availability for wildlife, acts as shelter for livestock and provides amenity for those walking in or visiting the countryside.
Teagasc organics specialist Joe Kelleher joined webinar proceedings to outline the upcoming national organic beef open day to be held on 28 September at 10am on the farm of John Purcell, Ross, Golden, Cashel, Co Tipperary.
The event will feature discussion on beef production systems, organic markets, financial supports, clover, soil health, farm buildings for organic beef production, economics, habitats and biodiversity and an organic food village with exhibitors. It is being organised by Teagasc, Bord Bia and the Department of Agriculture and more information is available here.