Where are the organic farms of Ireland, and why are they where they are?This is the question Doris Lapple and John Cullinan addressed in their 2012 research, published in Irish Geography.
(why not comment on whether they got this right, wrong or inbetween the old fashioned way- in the blog comments, and not _just_ on twitter or facebook!?!)
Their study focused on policy, agricultural systems, soil quality, market access, information provision and the influence of neighbouring organic farmers on the location of organic farms.
They found evidence of three main spatial clusters. Two are obvious, while one is perhaps less so: there's the Leitrim Roscommon border region, West Cork, and also county Limerick. Donegal and Mayo had the fewest organic farms.
The researchers state: “While certain agricultural systems and soil qualities provide favourable conversion conditions, regional supports, information provision and the impact of pioneering organic farmers may influence spatial clustering of organic farming.”
So what has worked in increasing the number of organic farms in particular areas? Policy support has had an influence. This is, importantly, a regional phenomenon:
“The high uptake rate of organic farming in the Shannon region (Co. Clare and Co. Limerick) is associated with support for organic farming provided by Shannon Development and the
LEADER programme in those counties. This additional support for organic farming was based on promotion, payment of organic association membership fees and marketing information provided by newsletters. Indeed, the high uptake rate of organic farming in those counties indicates that proactive interventions can cause more rapid expansion of organic agriculture”
Agricultural system also plays a part: “Due to their extensive nature, many beef and sheep (drystock) farms in particular can easily adjust to organic production, with relatively little entry costs and alterations in farm management or agronomic practices.”
They also cite the lack of organic milk processing options, and related logistical transportation difficulties, as possibly contributing to the small number of organic dairy farms.
Land quality emerged as of mixed importance. Permanent grassland regions score well, while tillage regions score poorly. Also, very poor land is typified by very low rates of organic farms, while good land usually signifies above average numbers of organic farms.
“Limerick has a much higher proportion of good agricultural land (47%), which is suited for tillage and grassland. Counties Cork and Waterford also have a high uptake rate of organic farming and are characterised by a large proportion of good agricultural land...While the counties with a high uptake rate of organic farming generally have a high proportion of good or moderate land quality, counties with a very low uptake rate of organic farming (i.e. Co. Donegal and Co. Mayo) are characterised by a large proportion of poor quality land.”
Access to markets may play a role: “Most of the counties with a main organic livestock outlet have an above average uptake rate...furthermore, many of the adjoining counties also have a high concentration of organic farms” they state, siting the example of south Leitrim north Roscommon.
Leitrim is a good example of the combined effects of factors:
“while the evidence suggests that regionally-provided information and support of organic farming can contribute to spatial clustering (e.g. in Co. Leitrim), this information provision must exist in combination with favourable conversion conditions (e.g. soil quality or agricultural systems suited for conversion), in order to be effective in increasing the uptake of organic farming.”
(Leitrim is listed as having moderate land quality in the paper)
Leitrim also, along with west Cork, points to the importance of pioneers (migrants who moved to these regions in the 1970s and 1980s) and neighbours. Having a successful organic farmer next door or locally influences more farmers to consider organic farming, they point out.
“This ‘neighbourhood effect’ is stronger at the early stages of the diffusion process, since organic farming becomes more ‘normal’ as diffusion progresses.”
They conclude by pointing to the confluence of factors needed to develop the sector, as well as the regionally-specific supports that can also help.
So folks, thoughts? Did they get this right? Leitrim as moderate land? Did the mart/markets come first or the organic farms? See also here for my own previous on history of organics in Ireland (excuse the tech illiterate formatting, but the info is top notch!)