Deputy Matt Carthy

Organics approach deemed ‘unambitious’ - Carthy

The Government’s approach to developing organic farming has been branded as "unambitious and disinterested" by a local TD.

Deputy Matt Carthy described what he views as a lack of momentum for the sector as ‘deeply concerning’.

Under two per cent of all agricultural land in Ireland is under organic production, compared to an EU average of 8.5% as of 2019.

The Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture called on Minister Charlie McConalogue to engage with all stakeholders to carry out a comprehensive strategic overview of organic farming policy.

“Minister McConalogue’s responses to questions in this area expose an unambitious and disinterested approach to the development of organic farming. It is deeply concerning that the minister has set targets that, even if met, should be regarded as abject failure."

Deputy Carthy was speaking after Minister McConalogue responded to his  parliamentary question asking for the percentage of farmland and number of hectares he is targeting for organic production by 2030.

Minister McConalogue didn't directly provide a target for 2030. He instead replied he was committed to the National Organic Strategy 2019-2025 which sets out "ambitious growth targets" by aligning it closely with the market opportunities.

"The current Programme for Government target is to align the utilisable agricultural area under organic production in Ireland with the EU average of 7.5%.

"The increase in land under organic production in recent years has been driven by the Organic Farming Scheme (OFS). I was pleased, therefore, to reopen the OFS this year with a budget of €4 million which should allow for a further 400 - 500 farmers entering the Scheme. The expected increase in area under organic production as a result of this reopening together with measures under the new CAP will assist in the achievement of these targets," insisted Minister McConalogue.

Deputy Carthy was unimpressed: “The EU have set a target of 25% of agricultural land under organic production by 2030. The Minister has stated it is his department’s intention to reach the EU average of 7.5% by 2025.

“But, the referenced EU average dates back to 2018. Ireland is chasing an average that will be seven years old by the time we aim to achieve it, according to the Minister’s plan.

“In fact, the average has increased by a full percentage point between 2018 and 2019; if the rest of Europe continues apace, by the time Ireland hits 7.5% the rest of Europe may well be reaching 15%.

“It is an absolutely ludicrous proposition that the minister believes it will be possible reach the 2030 target if there is such little ambition under his watch."

Fear

The Sinn Féin deputy conceded he had “no doubt" that by 2030 there will be an increase in the amount of agricultural land under organic production in Ireland. However he added this could have consequences for others in the sector, or aiming to enter the sector.

“My fear is that, in a panic to catch up, Fianna Fáil will pursue organics schemes that will completely exclude our smaller family farmers.

“Indeed, we already have the first signs of this, with the existing organic scheme preferencing places to farmers converting larger holdings.

“Our family farmers are directly responsible for the positive reputation Irish food enjoys across the world. It should be a source of embarrassment for any Minister for Agriculture that Ireland has the second lowest organic production in the EU. And, it should be a source of shame that the current minister intends to do little to change that," said Deputy Carthy.

He welcomed the commitment of the Oireachtas Agriculture committee  to devote a number of hearings on organic farming in the coming weeks.

“It is imperative that Minister McConalogue engage with all stakeholders to carry out a comprehensive strategic overview of organic farming policy.

“An ambitious organics strategy can deliver substantially for our family farmers and the environment. It’s time we got serious about getting this right.”

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