The current area under organic production in Ireland is 74,000ha, an increase of 13,000ha from last year.
That is according to Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Senator Pippa Hackett.
During a Dáil exchange, the minister confirmed that the total area in organic or conversion is 87,000ha.
She revealed that “an increase of 50,000 ha with the proposed money in the budget for next year would bring the figure to around 130,000 ha, which would represent a 57% increase on this year”.
The DAFM increased funding for the Organic Farming Scheme to €21 million, up from €16 million last year. It has allocated a further €2 million for further organic sector development measures.
Organic production in Ireland
According to Hackett, the measures address the “growing demand” from farmers and consumers for this production type.
She pointed to the Programme for Government’s commitment to align Ireland’s organic land area with that the then EU average of approximately 7.5%.
“Budget 2022, with its increased allocation for organic farming, will assist in working towards that goal,” the minister said.
“The additional funding to be allocated to the opening of the OFS in 2022 could provide for an additional 50,000 ha converting to organic production in 2022.”
This, she added, would represent an increase in excess of 50% in the area currently farmed organically.
Also, it will “take us further along the route” to the goal of 7.5% land cover.
During the exchange, Sinn Fein, spokesperson on agriculture, deputy Matt Carthy, said the government must be “proactive” in creating new market opportunities as opposed to “simply waiting for the market to land”.
He told the minister that “the market will not take the lead on its own”.
In response, Minister Hackett said she is “engaging closely with Bord Bia to find these markets and open them up”.
She said organics is a growing sector that “offers great opportunities”.
The deputy said he fears that the “department will go for what might be considered low hanging fruit”.
“It will go for the larger farmers to come into the scheme to meet the 50,000ha target.”
On the back of this, he asked the minister to give a commitment to share the scheme to encourage smaller and medium-sized farmers to enter organics.
In response, she said that “we do need to bring in large numbers of farmers”.
She pointed out that this will create a “critical” mass and allow for “significant” engagement, knowledge transfer and per-to-per work.
“The average farm size in the scheme across the board is in the region of 40 ha. They are relatively small farms.”
“There are also smaller farms in the scheme and not many large farms. The scheme is capped at an area-based payment to a certain hectarage so it so the payment does not keep increasing.”
Concluding, the minister said that she wants to encourage “all” farmers to join the scheme. “I concur that we need many farmers in the scheme.”