There was good news on funding for the organic sector this week, when Bord Bia announced it won an EU contract to promote organic EU beef and lamb, as well as a contract to promote EU mushrooms.
They have a combined value of €5.7m over three years, which is made up of €3.96m of EU money with the remaining €1.73m from Bord Bia and industry funding.
The spend will be €2.7m on promoting organic beef and lamb in Austria, Belgium, Germany and Sweden, with €3m allocated to mushroom promotion in the UK market.
This follows on from a €1m promotion campaign for the domestic Irish market announced in October, which has been running since 6 November.
This phase will finish on 17 December, with a second phase running during the spring of next year.
Need for markets
While farmers in other sectors will look on with envy at the investment in marketing organic produce, the reality is that production capacity is expanding faster than the market for organic produce is.
EU and Irish Government policy is to move the area of Irish land in organic farming from 2% of the total to 10% by 2030.
Generous on-farm support for conversion to organic production has resulted in more than 2,000 farmers entering conversion in 2023, doubling the area of land in organic farming from 2% to 4%.
With the level of on-farm support, organic output will increase, particularly in beef and lamb and to a lesser extent dairy.
However, it remains to be seen what market is available for organic produce, with large quantities of sheepmeat in particular frequently sold in conventional markets, when just 2% of the land was farmed organically.
With more organic produce coming down the track, it is obvious new markets are needed both at home and abroad.
For organic production to have long-term viability, expansion should be market-led, whereas, at present, it is very much production-led due to the subsidy structure.
This is a text book example of how government policy can be made happen - spend money on a project and there will be plenty of takers. Over the remaining years of this decade and probably beyond, there will be a much higher level of organic beef, lamb and dairy chasing consumer markets.
One area where there is likely to be demand is for organic grain, as organic livestock farmers chase organic feed.
Growing the Irish market for organic produce and breaking into continental markets will be a challenge, but a challenge it is essential that Bord Bia and Irish organic processors succeed in.
The EU money will come with strings attached, in that Bord Bia won’t be able to use it to promote exclusively Irish organic produce, it will have to be a more generic campaign that benefits all EU organic producers and processors.
Even so, it is still worthwhile, as if the overall market is increased, Irish producers and processors should get a share of it.
Success will be measured by premium secured
For organic farming to succeed in the longer term, there has to be a market in which increased organic production can be sold at a premium over conventional production.
So far, the organic project has been very much a leap of faith. With the upcoming marketing campaigns, we will learn if the faith was justified or not.
The simple measurement for success will be the level of premium Irish organic production commands over the mainstream alternative and we look forward to progress reports on that journey.