Gillian Westbrook, general manager of the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association (IOFGA), has said organic farmers are “victims of the green badge.”
She was responding to a question from Senator Paul Daly, who asked were organic farmers victims of the image that wider Irish agri-food produce is organic, even when it’s not.
Westbrook said any impression that all Irish agri-food is organic was down to “a lack of understanding and we, as a certification body, need to do more”.
IOFGA, along with the Organic Trust, was before the Oireachtas agriculture committee on Tuesday to discuss the challenges facing the sector.
Sustainability a major issue
The general manager of IOFGA said the biggest issues were Brexit and continuity of supply.
“It’s a sustainability issue and that’s only going to increase. It is a common problem across the EU.
“The Department won’t like it but other countries have removed the 60ha cap to allow larger farmers and that’s been successful.”
It was stressed that organic farming is a viable enterprise, but ongoing late payments are a major issue.
“The European Commission is supporting organic because it’s a rising star, is viable and has huge potential,” Westbrook said.
Demand may be met by exports
Helen Scully, CEO of the Organic Trust, said there is huge demand for organic produce.
“In 25 years, we have never seen the demand we are seeing now, but that demand will be filled by exports if we don’t fill it.
“We believe we are on the cusp of something great and Ireland could fulfil its environmental obligations through organic farming. The wish is that the Government would recognise that,” she said.
Scully also added that Ireland had gained a reputation for people coming and going from organic farming, but that is no longer the case, with 3.1% farmers leaving the scheme each year.
Pat Lalor, organic farmer and Organic Trust board member, cited getting more people into organic farming as the biggest challenge.
He called on the Department to reopen the organic scheme and warned that otherwise Ireland may have to import to meet demand.
The Department of Agriculture has been contacted for comment.