Sinn Féin spokesperson on Agriculture, Matt Carthy TD, has said that the unambitious approach adopted by government in the development of organic farming also penetrates into statutory agencies.
Teachta Carthy was speaking following recent hearings of the Oireachtas Agriculture Committee with farm organisations, Teagasc, Bord Bia and the Department of Agriculture on the future of the organics sector.
Teachta Carthy said:
“The reputation of Irish agriculture is one of a quality premium product. Irish farmers should be well placed to leverage the ambitious target of the EU Farm to Fork Strategy, to target at least 25% of agricultural land under organic production by 2030.
“Unfortunately, Ireland currently languishes towards the bottom of the table with under 2% under organic production, potentially damaging the reputation of Irish food production.
“The current government target of 7.5% is illustrative of this governments woeful lack of ambition, matched only by what they have delivered to date.
“Minister of State Pippa Hackett lauded an investment at the beginning of this year with a target of up to 500 entrants, while the departments own figures and number of applicants to the scheme reveal that we will be lucky to see half that number of new spaces taken up.
“The lack of ambition and vision within the Department of Agriculture is disappointing. This unambitious approach penetrates into those statutory agencies that could, and should, be playing a positive role in the development of organics such as Bord Bia and Teagasc.
“Just 5 of the 100 newly established Teagasc Signpost Farms are organic.
“That only 5% of new Signpost Farms are organic is an indication of surrender that we will may not even reach the pathetic 7.5% target, let alone 25% in the few years ahead.
“The organics sector in this state is plagued by a lack of vision and government support. Apathy, that verges on hostility, pervades every aspect of organic development.
“Having engaged with many of those in the organics sector; including those farm representatives who attended the Oireachtas hearings, Nigel Renaghan of the IFA from County Monaghan, and Henry O’Donnell of the INHFA from County Donegal, I know that farmers are open to entering organics if the supports are there and if the training, expertise and marketing are provided.
“Recently, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald joined me to meet with organic farmers in County Monaghan where we also visited the new Irish Organic Mill.
“The experiences we heard were of a Department of Agriculture which provided barriers rather than assistance and are all too familiar.
“As well as supporting our Climate Action obligations, the development of the organics sector can provide a much-needed income boost to our family farmers. Done right, organics can bring profitability and sustainability to Irish farms that currently have neither.
“The current government approach to organics is failing utterly – dramatic action based on ambition and vision is required at a Ministerial level if we are to have any prospect of delivering on the undeniable potential.”