CEO of the Irish Organic Association (IOA) Gillian Westbrook has said the €256m allocated for organic farming under Pillar II of the CAP Strategic Plan 2023-2027 is “unsurprising”. The investment follows an additional €5m allocated to the sector in Budget 2022 earlier this month and represents a 500% increase in funding overall to over €50m a year, up from the current €10m.

Such an increase in expenditure has not come as a surprise to organic farmers, according to the IOA.

Westbrook said her association has consistently followed and fed into the Department’s CAP Consultative Committee which includes a range of farm representative groups and bodies. She attests that all stakeholders were aware of the likely increase in funding and in many cases, supported it.

She did, however, acknowledge that the extent of the increase in funding was “perhaps not as expected by some farm bodies”.

Westrbook pointed out that a commitment to increase the area farmed organically in Ireland is noted in the current Programme for Government and that the EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy has set a target of 25% for 2030.

Need to work together

Westbrook’s comments come after suggestions by some farmer representative groups in recent days, including North Tipperary IFA chair Imelda Walsh, that a significant proportion of the funding allocated to organics should be shared elsewhere.

Describing Walsh’s comments as “disappointing” and “to be expected”, Westbrook said: “It is really important that this move does not become divisive and that we must work together.”

The IOA believes no farmer should lose out by the movement of funding from any sector to organics as “those that feel short changed can go into organics”.

According to Westbrook, the market for organic produce in Europe is set “to explode” and it is vital now that the advisory structures and systems are put in place to support that growth.

When asked by the Irish Farmers Journal if the appetite exists amongst Irish farmers to convert to organic production currently, she remained optimistic and pointed to the opportunity and growing public interest in organic products here and further afield.

Ongoing analysis of the CAP Strategic Plan 2023-2027 and farmer reaction available in this week’s Irish Farmers Journal.