Organic farming could account for 3 per cent of all farmland in Ireland by 2006, if the recommendations of a new report are implemented quickly, said Noel Davern, the Irish junior agriculture minister.
Davern was referring to a report published yesterday by the Organic Development Committee, a unit of the Department of Agriculture set up by Davern in 2000 to draw up a strategy for the development of the sector.
"This is a big increase on what we have (around 1 per cent), and I am glad the Committee has not been too cautious in its projections," he said.
The committee included representatives from twenty-two organisations. "I set out very deliberately to bring a wide range of stakeholders onto this committee," Davern said.
"Naturally they include the organic farming bodies and the Department. But we also brought in the mainstream farming organisations, the food processing and retail sectors, the consumers and the semi-state bodies. What I wanted to do was make the point, as strongly as possible, that organic farming is not a minority interest but is ready to take its place in mainstream agriculture," he explained.
Among the recommendations of the report was the establishment of a steering group drawn from among the stakeholders in the organic sector, which would act as a driving force for the development of the sector and a basis for advancing the partnership between the organic sector and other interests.
In addition, a working group should be set up to co-ordinate, facilitate and monitor the provision of training, education, advice and research in the organic sector. The committee also said that an organic market development group under the co-ordination of Bord Bia, the Irish food board, should have overall responsibility for developing a national marketing strategy for organic food. Its tasks would include the creation of an organic logo, recognisable by all, and the creation and management of a new quality assurance scheme.
Financial issues affecting the organic sector were also covered by the committee, which said that research, training and education all need to be improved and that strategies for market development need to be developed. It also recommended changes in some of the schemes operated by the Department of Agriculture designed to attract farmers to organic production.
The collection of information about the organic sector and making it available to all stakeholders in the sector is essential, the committee said, suggesting that a census of organic farming be taken at regular intervals, starting this year. When this first census is completed, the results should be analysed to explore whether targets can be set for the development of individual areas within the organic sector, it said.
A database of information affecting the organic sector should be set up, along with a website, to make it easier for interested parties to find the information they want, the committee concluded.
Calling the report a 'milestone' in the development of the organic sector, Davern relaunched the €8 million aid scheme for organic farming and announced that applications for grants could be made up until 2006.