The opportunities presented by organic farming as a route to boost farm viability and facilitate succession in this country are explored in a paper from the National University of Ireland (NUI) Galway.

Irish Organics, Innovation and Farm Collaboration: A Pathway to Farm Viability and Generational Renewal‘ was published in the Journal of Sustainability, with the lead author Dr. Maura Farrell.

The paper draws on a qualitative case study with a group of Irish organic farmers, some engaged in the Maximising Organic Production System (MOPS) EIP-AGRI Project, and others outside of the project.

Organic farming can act as a catalyst in attracting new entrants to the agricultural sector, the authors found.

This is a particularly important aspect as it will most likely become a vital contributor in ensuring that the ambitious and challenging growth projections for the industry set out in the European Union’s Farm to Fork strategy are met, the NUI Galway team found.

The MOPS project presents a model that can support the greater economic and environmental sustainability of organic horticulture in Ireland, they said.

The collaborative production it supports on farms assists horticulture producers to tailor their production to market demands, the paper outlined. The focus on the increasing use of green cover crops and minimising external nutrient inputs supports a greater environmental sustainability, it stated.

The social sustainability of the wider farming environment in Ireland is also supported by organic farming as a potential catalyst for greater levels of succession and the attraction of new entrants into farming, the NUI Galway authors found.

Farm viability

The case study in the research also demonstrates how dealing with issues related to farm viability at the collective level is effective at improving viability, and has spin-off knowledge sharing and innovation benefits that also support this aim, they said.

The transferability of the case more widely within organic horticulture would likely have benefits, as the sector has market opportunities, the NUI Galway team said.

Access to land also emerged here as an issue, alongside issues specific to succession, the need for tailored supports and dealing with the perception of organic farming.

Another important finding is the pathway into organic farming of the returning successor. This, the authors said, has relevance for policy.

Targeted support that incentivises the returning successor could attract those back into farming who left to pursue education and employment, they said.

This is potentially a broader way forward for policy, which identifies different types of successors and new entrants, and targets supports specifically to their needs, the paper stated.

However, there is also a need for further research understanding the specifics of how succession effectively occurs, and how new entrants get into farming, according to the authors.

Image credit: RURALIZATION Horizon 2020 project. Fóris, Anna (2021). Pátka (Hungary). Title: ‘Pátka: Tradition and future – Father reaps, his children rest in the shade of wheat’

Research exploring the six types of new entrants and five types of successors identified by the European Innovation Partnership for Agriculture Productivity and Sustainability (EIP-AGRI [20] ) focus group on new entrants into farming is perhaps a potential starting point towards understanding the needs of successors and new entrants more specifically, the paper stated.

The MOPS case study also demonstrates the potential of group cooperation to support farm viability and succession. The capacity for collective groups to support smaller, emerging sub-sectors of farming to meet their knowledge needs, for example speciality beef producers and hemp growers alongside supporting supply chain innovation emerges as a potentially important focus of supports worth further examination, the authors said.

The research was carried out as part of the RURALIZATION project and received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.