To paraphrase a line from the Field of Dreams movie, “build it and they will come”.

This appears to be the guiding star for the Irish Government and EU strategy on increasing the area in organic farming.

It is the one area of farming support where the Government can be described as generous, having committed in the region of €50m to €55m funding support to the sector for 2024, an amount comparable with the total that is available for the entire suckler sector.

With generous Government support available, estimated to be in the region of €11,000 to €12,000 per holding, it is no surprise that the area of land now dedicated to organic farming has increased threefold since 2020 and is now at 225,000ha.

2025 target met

This means that the Government has now reached the 5% target set for area of Irish farmland in organic production by 2025, with further targets of 7.5% by 2027 and 10% by 2030.

With such progress on meeting the target for growth, all might appear well in the world of organic farming - even if it has come at a considerable cost.

However, there are issues. The increase in output of organic produce isn’t anywhere close to being in proportion to the increase in the area of farmland going organic.

There has been a recognition by several farm businesses, particularly in the more disadvantaged areas, that dedicating their land to organic farming makes good business sense, as there is no particular requirement to achieve a volume of output.


Of course, availability of supply hasn’t been a problem yet for the organic sector.

Data from DAFM at the end of 2022 showed that 70% of organic lamb and 30% of organic beef was “leaking” into mainstream markets.

Anecdotal evidence for 2023 suggests that this figure is even higher and this is with overall output relatively low, as there is a two-year lead in conversion before produce can be certified as organic.

Therefore, there is no suggestion that loss of production compared with conventional farming will really matter; at least, from a market perspective.

There is no evidence to suggest that there has been a growth in market demand to come anywhere close to matching the expansion underway in the Irish organic sector.

In fact, the inflationary pressures of global events in recent times has created what is generally described as a 'cost of living crisis', leaving consumers with squeezed incomes.

In this environment, luxury and discretionary spending are the first to be cut in household budgets and organic food purchases are about as indulgent as it gets.

Bord Bia research in the Irish market place last year identifies less enthusiasm for organic beef and lamb compared with other food produce. However, among those that are prepared to consider organic purchases, they are willing to pay up to 15% more for organic beef above standard beef and 20% more for lamb.

Chasing customers

With the commitment to increasing production now firmly established as policy, the need to find markets is becoming urgent.

Bord Bia were in Germany this week at BIOFACH, the world’s leading trade fair for organic produce. Seven Irish companies were participating and seeking to drum up further business.

Bord Bia are in a strong financial position to support these initiatives, having secured €1.5m EU funding before Christmas to promote organic beef and lamb across Germany, Belgium, Austria and Sweden.

A three-year business-to-business campaign is scheduled to start in June and will have a total budget of €2.7m of combined EU and Bord Bia funding.

Domestically, Bord Bia have a €1m campaign to promote organic running since last autumn.

There is no denying the effort that is going into developing organic beef and lamb production in Ireland. In the absence of a market led pull, production is being pushed by generous Government support.

It might be going too far to say that, currently, the market for additional Irish organic production could be compared to the emperor's new clothes, but the belief in building production and markets will be found is very much a leap of faith.