The Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA) has said that clarity is needed on the economics of organic farming.

It follows an announcement by Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM), Pippa Hackett on Wednesday (July 20) of proposed new rates for farmers participating in the Organic Farming Scheme (OFS).

The new rates are subject to approval by the European Commission as as part of the ongoing discussions on approval of Ireland’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) Strategic Plan.

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Deputy president of ICMSA, Denis Drennan

ICMSA deputy president Denis Drennan welcomed the improved payment rates, which include an annual participation payment of €2,000 in the first year of conversion and €1,400/year thereafter.

However, he said unless the economics of organic farming stands up, it will not develop as a sector.

Drennan, who is also chair of the ICMSA’s Farm & Rural Affairs Committee, said that the relevant authorities “need to be honest with farmers in this regard”.

He noted that conventionally produced products such as dairy, beef and lamb are currently making more than their organic equivalents in the marketplace.

“It is essential that before incentivising farmers into a new enterprise, that markets are identified for organic produce that will, and this is critical, deliver a price to organic farmers that will deliver a good income for their efforts,” Drennan said.

“ICMSA is concerned that we are incentivising people into a sector without an identifiable market in place and this would be hugely damaging for the individuals concerned but also the wider organic sector.

“At this stage, ICMSA believes that Minister Hackett should ask Teagasc to develop income projections for organic farming enterprises,” he added.

Drennan also suggested that Bord Bia should be asked to do a full market analysis including the likely returns from the marketplace.

“Publish the results and let farmers make the decision on going organic based on the full facts.

“In the past, with diversification options, we have incentivised farmers into sectors where the market failed to materialise, it is hugely important that we do not make the same mistake again,” he concluded.