Leading NI organic dairy farmer David Laughlin has criticised the lack of support given to organic farmers by DAERA/CAFRE.
Laughlin, who operates Culmore Farm outside Kilrea, told MLAs on the Stormont Agriculture committee last Wednesday that 10 years ago there were three full-time organic advisers at CAFRE, but now there are none.
“It is a shocking indictment of our Department that we don’t have any,” said Laughlin, who added that new entrants to the sector are left to rely on experienced organic producers like him for support.
He in turn, has no other option but to ring Teagasc advisers in the Republic of Ireland for advice.
We fought our corner and won
“There is an increasing interest in going organic in NI, but the infrastructure is not there. We are in essence doing the Department’s work for them – unpaid I may say,” said Laughlin.
With just over 1% of NI agricultural land farmed organically, DAERA decided not to include an organic farming scheme in the 2015-2020 Rural Development Programme, but was forced to do a U-turn after organic farmers took their case to Brussels.
“We fought our corner and won,” said Laughlin.
On the rising costs of inputs, Laughlin claimed conventional farmers could take a lot from the organic sector in how to manage grass and crops at low cost, but suggested that propaganda from “big agri-chemical companies” prevented those messages getting through.
“They make a huge amount of profit from the sector every year,” said Laughlin, who went on to allege that these same companies are profiteering from the current escalation in input costs. It is quite sad that our fellow industry can be held to ransom,” he said.
Representatives from the sector also raised concerns with MLAs at a significant divergence of organic standards that is already happening between NI and Britain as a result of the NI protocol.
The example was given of a rule that allows organic pig and poultry producers in Britain to continue to include a maximum of 5% of non-organic protein feed in rations. In the EU (and NI), feed must now be 100% organic.
“It [the NI protocol] has had a major impact and will continue to do so,” claimed Laughlin.
He added that rules and regulations related to the NI protocol have also added other costs, and in his own case, an organic dairy ration imported from Britain cost £390/t pre-protocol, and costs £605/t now.