There has never been as big a push to promote and drive organic farming as right now. Ireland has committed to going from 2.5% of its agricultural land under organic production to three times that in the next few years. And it could be a silver bullet for beef farmers in particular who according to all income figures remain as the poor relation in farming. While commodity prices have soared this year to offset some of the pain of 40% higher input costs, the vast majority of beef farmers are reliant on some other form of income, unlike dairy farmers.

But could converting to organic production be the shot in the arm which the sector needs? On the macro, the story of Irish beef looks impressive with markets all over the world. We are reportedly the largest net exporter of beef in the northern hemisphere and the grass fed message sold by Bord Bia to international customers is an enviable unique selling point. But of course at the bottom of that food chain, primary producers will quibble that they don’t see a return for their work in producing this high quality product.

At John Purcell’s magnificent organic beef farm under the shadow of the Galtee Mountains in the heart of the Golden Vale in Tipperary last Wednesday, hundreds of would be organic farmers attended a well organised open day where they had the opportunity to find out everything they needed to know about the business of organic beef production.

Organic farming is no longer seen as the oddball type of operation that some people might have considered it 20 years ago.

Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConnalogue also attended which was another indication of his departments dedicated approach to growing the sector. Before leaving Kildare Street that morning he announced a huge increase in funding as part of Budget 2023.

Organic farming is no longer seen as the oddball type of operation that some people might have considered it 20 years ago. It is now recognised as a viable and realistic alternative form of farming which chimes with so many of the domestic and Brussels targets for climate action and sustainable food production.

In fact when you stand back and look at it in the round, it seems like a no brainer. Teagasc and the Department of Agriculture are key in that push to treble organic production. It must be pleasing for Minister Pippa Hackett to be in office at a time when this big push is happening as it would be delivering on a Green Party promise and she being an organic beef producer herself with her husband Mark in County Offaly.

People like Jack Nolan in the Department of Agriculture and Elaine Leavy, Dr. Mary Ryan, Joe Kelleher and Martin Bourke among others in Teagasc are heavy hitters who have been charged with the recruitment drive. Teagasc has also appointed six organic advisors in the regions. And this is buttressed by the Departments organic scheme aimed at helping farmers transition but which has been oversubscribed in recent years.

This is an indication of the increased interest in switching across all enterprises. Of course there are challenges ahead and plenty of questions from inquisitive farmers. Will the demand be there? Will the cost of living drive consumers away from niche organics? Is there the processing capacity? If I go in now, will I be accepted on the points system?

Nothing is simple in farming but with the climate action bill setting a high bar for agriculture, making the switch to organic production might be a much needed catalyst for smaller producers who have to play their part while also feeling some sense of income security. Time will tell.

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