Countries with under 3% of their agricultural lands under organic production will struggle to meet EU targets for the sector, the EU Commissioner for Agriculture has said.

Speaking at a press conference after the commission’s action plan for development of organic production was adopted, Janusz Wojciechowski said that Ireland is one of the member states in which the development of organic farming “is very slow and very small”, but that there are instruments that can be utilised in order to develop organic production.

Area currently under organic production

Presently, about 8.5% of the EU’s agricultural area is farmed organically, and the trends show that with the present growth rate, the EU could reach between 15% and 18% by 2030.

The commission aims to boost the production and consumption of organic products, to reach 25% of agricultural land in the EU being under organic production by 2030.

Ireland’s share of agricultural land currently under organic farming is around 2%, one of the lowest in Europe.

The “leaders” are Austria, with 26% – more than the 2030 target; Sweden and Estonia, with about 20% each; and Italy, Latvia and Czech Republic, at about 15%.

Countries with the smallest proportion of agricultural lands under organic production include Bulgaria, Romania, the Netherlands, Poland and Malta.

Green public procurement

Commissioner Wojciechowski advised that “green public procurement” is a possibility for boosting the organic sector in Ireland.

Green public procurement (GPP) is a process where public authorities seek to source goods, services or works with a reduced environmental impact, as defined by Ireland’s Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications.

The Climate Action Plan 2019 required every public body to have a climate mandate, a key element of that is using public procurement to deliver change.

The new Waste Action Plan for a Circular Economy contains a series of measures to expand and strengthen the usage of GPP in Ireland.

Growing demand for organic products

“Organic food can be treated in a privileged way; and this procurement can be limited only for organic production, that is one of the possibilities in creating demand for organic consumption,” the commissioner said.

With this, he added that there is growing consumer demand for organic products.

“With more organic products on the market, the price will drop…they will be cheaper because, indeed, there is [currently] an obstacle – those products are more expensive and not everyone can afford them,” he said.

But, we do forecast that products will drop and a growing number of consumers will be interested in organic products.

However, the challenges for Ireland still remain. Commissioner Wojciechowski said it is recognised at a European level that there are significant differences between EU member states; and that countries that have a share of 3% or less of agricultural land under organic production, like those listed above, will struggle to reach the 25% target by 2030.

“We encourage member states to set national targets but we would like to reach the EU-wide target of 25%,” the commissioner noted.

Recovery plans

“Another important issue we have is [Covid-19] recovery plans. Member states are drafting their recovery plans in order to make clear how they would like to use the Next Generation funds,” he continued.

Farming should not be excluded from recovery plans. Some countries include organic farming in their plans, I believe this is most related to the processing industry – we need synergy between different funds.

“We need recovery funds; we need cohesion funds; local authorities could also play a role – they could use those funds to create local markets.

“We need different types of actions that encourage both member states and farmers to reach these targets.

“We have a political objective of 25% for the whole EU, and member states should set their individual objectives.”

Will Ireland meet organic targets?

On March 1, Ireland’s Organic Farming Scheme opened for new applications from farmers.

The reopening is expected to result in an increase of up to 30% in the number of farmers farming organically in Ireland this year.

The Organic Farming Scheme is an agri-environment measure under the department’s Rural Development Programme. Farmers entering the scheme could qualify for yearly payments of up to €220/ha during the conversion period and up to €170/ha when they have achieved full organic status.

Ag Climatise, the national air climate and air roadmap for the agriculture sector, sets out for the current area under organic production to increase from 74,000ha to 350,000ha by 2030.

The amount of land under organic production has increased by 50% since 2014. It has increased by 257% in the last 20 years.

“Ultimately, growth will be demand led,” the Ag Climatise report notes.