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Minister Sargent Launches Action Plan To Increase Organic Production In Ireland

Speaking at the launch of the Organic Farming Action Plan 2008-2012, Mr Trevor Sargent TD, Minister for Food and Horticulture at the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said that he was committed to achieving the very necessary development of the organic sector in Ireland. The Minister said "the target of 5% of land area in organic production by 2012 set down in the Programme for Government is indeed a challenging target but one that I believe is achievable".

Minister Sargent said that "the Action Plan was an important development in working towards achievement of the Government's target", and he thanked the members of the National Steering Group for their input into the document.

The Action Plan has four main objectives; increase production in line with market trends, increase the knowledge base, develop the organic market at home and abroad, and encourage the development of public procurement opportunities for organic products. There are over 60 actions identified in the Plan.

The Minister acknowledged the progress made to date since the establishment of the National Steering Group for the Organic Sector. Since 2005 there has been an increase of over 17% in the area under organic production. The financial incentives to go organic are attractive. The Organic Farming Scheme provides a payment of over €21,500 per year in the two-year conversion period to a farmer with 55 hectares who is also in REPS; the annual payment for this farmer when fully organic is almost €16,000. It would be helpful if farmers already in REPS could take up the new Organic Farming Scheme without having to switch to REPS 4. This problem has been raised with the Commission and I, and my officials, are doing everything we can to progress the matter.

"The National Steering Group will have a crucial role in guiding and overseeing progress on the Action Plan," Minister Sargent said. "I intend to bring together key industry leaders, opinion makers, agricultural academics with some of Ireland's top organic farmers and growers to better appreciate what organic farming is and to dispel any misconceptions that may exist", the Minister added. Continuing, Minister Sargent highlighted some clear benefits of organic farming. It produces more food for each unit of energy input; it facilitates a greater presence of soil microbes and root fungi which ensure better tolerance of very wet and dry soil conditions, while also increasing the retention of carbon in the soil, which is important in the context of climate change; the practice of organic farming increases the availability of essential plant nutrients.

"The Programme for Government 5% target is indeed challenging. I am confident that, with the full support of all stakeholders, implementation of the actions outlined in the Plan will greatly assist in achieving the target", Minister Sargent concluded.

Date Released: 30 April 2008