The senior organics inspector at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has said that the organics sector here will continue to see strong growth in the coming years.

Under the Climate Action Plan, the government is targeting 450,000ha of agricultural land in the country being farmed under organics by 2030.

Appearing on a panel discussion today on Agriland’s livestream from the 2023 National Ploughing Championships, Jack Nolan said that he expects the target to not only be met, but surpassed.

“I think we’ll exceed it. We’re at 180,000ha at the minute. A couple of years ago we were at 74,000ha. There’s never been so much support for organic farmers.”

“I don’t just mean money, but if you look at the number of Teagasc advisors, the number of private advisors, the Organic Trust, the Irish Organic Association,” he told Agriland’s Aisling O’Brien.

According to Nolan, there is now a much greater understanding and awareness among farmers of organic farming.

He said: “Bord Bia are going to launch a marketing campaign later in the year to show people what organic is all about, to show consumers we need people in the market place to start spending their money.”

“If you look at the Citizens Assembly on Biodiversity, they said that they want more organic farmers in Ireland. Well now is the opportunity for them to go out and buy Irish organic produce. I think [the target] is very achievable.”

“To me, the floodgates are going to open. There’s a €50 billion market in Europe, €125 billion worldwide, and we have a fantastic marketing agency in Bord Bia. We just don’t produce enough organic produce to sell,” Nolan added.

The department organics chief said that the number of organically-farmed cattle being slaughtered in Ireland will have to increase in order to meet the demand for organic beef that is there.

“Last year we killed about 12,000 organic beef cattle. We need to be killing 20,00, 30,000, 40,000 more, and get into a really strong position where we can market Ireland as an organic country across Europe and around the world,” he said.

“There’s an opportunity there for Ireland to take and we need to take it.”

The panel also heard from Grace Maher, from the Irish Organic Association (IOA), and organic farmer Kevin O’Hanlon.

O’Hanlon outlined the financial savings he has made on fertiliser, which is not permitted to be used in organic farming.

Commenting on this, Nolan said: “We have a huge number of farmers out there that could quite easily grow enough grass. It’s just that we’ve become used to someone coming into the yard, telling us what to do, that you need x amount of fertiliser, that you need to use this spray and that spray.

“We’ve lost our understanding of the soil. We need to get it back. We need to understand what’s happening, why a soil isn’t producing grass. Is it compacted, what’s the practice that you’re doing, why does multi-species grass change the colour of the soil and the health of it?”

“That’s what we need to be looking at, using the soil to feed what we’re growing, rather than drawing in expensive inputs,” Nolan added.