Horticulture has a lot of potential, indeed recent media reports put growth for some organic growers at 40% in 2012. This seems optimistic, especially with such poor and erratic weather in recent times.
What will 2013 hold for organic producers? Oliver Moore investigates
“My main wish for 2013 is for a nice summer!” So says Jason Horner of the Organic Growers of Ireland, who are holding a conference in Birr in February. Horner, who grows in Clare, adds “An apprenticeship scheme would help the sector develop, but its been difficult to establish.”
There are reports that supermarkets are importing up to E10 million of veg from EU countries, so there are certainly import substitution opportunities. To change this, Horner points out “supermarkets would have to put in seed capital, sometimes even to buy farms and set people up, as they did in the UK 15-20 years ago” he said, adding that there was little sign of this at present.
John Liston, organic dairy farmer in Limerick tells me Irish organic milk producers will specialise in summer milk. “We don't have the scale to compete on Winter milk, but we can compete with the best in the world with summer milk off grass.”
The Irish Organic Milk Producers have developed their own organic cheddar cheese. This cheese is a traditional cheddar, made with unpasteurised milk in round wheels. It will also retail in 200, 250 and 400g packs, in a deli style paper. Export markets in the UK and Europe – Italy France and Germany in particular - will be a big focus for the Little Milk Company.
“We have 15 tonnes ready to go, at various levels of maturity, and we're making more all the time. We hope to sell 25-35 tonnes of cheese this year, double that next year, and after that who knows? Our farmers produce 5 million litres of milk, so the sky's the limit” says Conor Mulhall, General Manager of the company.
Tastings in Ireland, and with UK and German buyers have already been arranged, while Mulhall will be visiting BioFach in Germany in February to further develop contacts.
John Brennan of the Leitrim Organic Farmers Co-op finds reasons to be cheerful for organic beef and lamb. “Demand for organic beef is stronger than supply at present.” However “the quality of silage isn't great”. Slaney meats, to whom the Co-op send 30-50 animals per week for processing, now also take 36 month old animals at full organic premium. Up until recently, the premium was only paid for animals up to 30 months. 36 months suits slower growing, grass based systems with Continental crosses, according to Brennan.
However an issue is that “to increase beef availability, we need more stores and weanlings. A problem for the organic sector is that “some continental animals, weanlings or stores, are getting as much in conventional marts. So there are less in the organic system, especially in the south and south east where the are less dedicated organic marts. This means that finishers don't have animals to buy.”
Brennan has seen a progressive use of supports by the Department on occasion, through grant aid being targeted more at organic farmers who kept animals in the organic system. This should be continued, he feels.
“Last year was ok for lamb, we're reasonably hopeful that the hogget trade will be good. We have new entrants in sheep. There are no exact stats on the numbers of organic sheep in country, which there should be. At the same time, we know with these new people coming in, we do need to try to grow that market.”
Organic meat from further south tends to go through the Good Herdsman, who have developed strong markets in Europe, where organic sales are growing rapidly.
Pork and poultry remain difficult sectors to grow. Major pork producers Gold River farm, Wicklow, recently left the organic system, emphasising the matter. Many have argued for some sort of loose barn semi outdoors system in organic to adapt to the realities of the Irish weather.
More on this here soon