The Limerick and Tipperary Organic Farming Group will hold a farm walk this week, the first of five, with an aim to strengthen the organic farming sector in Ireland.

Topics including soil management, arable crops, the establishment of a grass-clover crop, and livestock-free crop rotation will be discussed at the farm walk.

The first of the five farm walks this summer will take place on Thursday, June 16, at 6:30p.m on Pat O’Connor’s farm in Newcastle, Co. Tipperary, E91V348.

Soil specialist John Geraghty, and representatives from Flahavan Oats, Fruithill Farm and Organic Seeds will attend the event.

Organic farming

A primary point of focus when the group was established in 2016 concerned the number of new entrants to the Organic Farming Scheme (OFS), and the subsequent impact on the supply and price of beef, the group said.

Despite the objective by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) to increase organic acreage from less than 2% to 5% of utilisable agricultural area, the group said, Ireland has consistently failed to achieve this goal.

“While a number of the core issues identified at the start of 2016 are equally applicable today, more worryingly, the organic farming sector is vulnerable as its commercial viability remains uncertain.

“Albeit exceptional times, 2022 has witnessed the factory price paid for conventional livestock exceed that of organic. The current situation is not sustainable and will decimate the sector if it is allowed to continue,” the group said.

The farming group also raised the question of why the organic sector is struggling in Ireland, although, in 2020, the European organic market increased by 15% and reached a value of €52 billion.

Commitment to appropriate financial support is needed to increase organic production in Ireland, according to the farming group, which said:

“Specifically, the OFS financial supports for in-conversion and fully converted land are insufficient to attract new and retain existing members. At present, this is the primary barrier to growing the sector.”

Failure to attract tillage farmers to convert, as evidenced recently by the shockingly low number of OFS tillage applicants, the group said, will result in volatile cereal availability.

“Unfortunately, a significant portion of the concentrates consumed in Ireland are sourced through the UK. Irish-based tillage farmers are essential if the sector is to have access to a consistent supply of competitively priced cereals,” according to the group.

Farming group

Established in 2016, the not-for-profit organisation is a network of organic farmers, processors and service providers, which aims to facilitate the exchange of knowledge between farmers.

At present, the group has approximately 40 registered members, predominantly located within the Golden Vale.

The network previously invited experts from bodies such as Teagasc; Bord Bia; DAFM; and Slaney Meats, to share their experience on market opportunities, soil management, and animal nutrition and welfare.

The group said there are many challenges ahead with organic farming and the broader agricultural sector, including market uncertainty; climate change; international price inflation; and political and economic volatility.

“Against this background, the need to work together, utilise data wisely, and promote our unique and exceptionally high-quality organic produce has never been greater,” the group said.