Irish organic suckler herds are up 70%, the latest figures show.

There are now 924 organic suckler herds, up 382 on last year’s figure of 542.

Drystock herds are up 50%, with an additional 145. There are now 439 drystock herds in the country.

Joe Burke, livestock manager at Bord Bia told the Irish Farmers Journal that these figures were “important because farms which entered organic production in 2015 will be eligible to sell their product as fully certified organic this year, since there is a two year conversion period.

“In terms of the resulting increase in organic beef supply, the new entrants could potentially collectively represent an expansion of between 50% and 60%. The actual increase which will materialise will depend on whether the new entrants choose to reduce their output and stocking rates, or maintain them close to their previous levels.”

Strong growth in the EU

The Irish market is key for organic produce as all leading supermarkets now have an organic beef offering, Burke added.

Sales for organic produce on the global market has continued to rise over recent years, with organic agriculture products up by some 355% from 2000 to 2015, climbing from €16.8bn to €76.7bn per year.

In Ireland there has been a 23% rise in sales of organic food in the major outlets.

“Sales of organic foods in general have been experiencing strong growth across Europe, far outpacing sluggish growth in the rest of the food sector. Irish organic beef is also supplied to the world’s largest producer of organic baby food, a rapidly growing sector, as well as to a number of very high-end hotels and restaurants,” Burke added.

There are now 60,000ha of organic area in Ireland, with 20,000ha in conversion and 40,000ha fully converted.

Challenges to organic farmers

Although the sector is experiencing considerable growth, organic beef will still comprise less than 1% of the annual beef production in Ireland.

Historically, one of the main challenges which organic processors experienced was the scarcity of raw-material supply, Joe said.

"The influx of new producers represents an opportunity to grow sales to existing customers, as well as to begin servicing new outlets for organic beef."

He added that there is significant potential for Irish organic beef and "with the growth in cattle numbers, it will continue to be essential for organic producers to supply animals in a well-coordinated manner.

"In order to secure premium markets, there needs to be a steady stream of animals finished on a year-round basis," he said.

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