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Developing organics – challenges and opportunities

There has been a growing focus on organic food production in Ireland which is reflective of the growing government support available for the sector and the ambition to increase the land area being farmed organically in Ireland to 7.5% by 2027. This ambition is a notable increase from the estimated two % of utilizable agricultural land in Ireland under organic production in 2021. 

With the prospects of increased organic food production in Ireland, Bord Bia is currently reviewing how we can best support the sector through targeted marketing development and promotional activity whilst also recognising the unique constraints being faced in terms of scale of supply, seasonality of production in some categories, prevalence of imports and capability to export. 

Market opportunities

Market research commissioned by Bord Bia in 2021 provided an overview of the key opportunities and barriers for Irish organic produce across a range of European and international markets. In Europe, the study examined opportunities in France, Germany, Italy, Austria, the UK, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands. The cumulative organic market in these eight countries was valued at €27.7 billion in 2020, growing from €19.5 billion in 2015. While the scale of opportunities for Irish organic produce varies across these markets it is worth noting that imported organic produce accounted for 18% of total organic sales in these regions in 2020.  This indicates that there are important opportunities for Irish organic products to be explored in these markets despite the impact on consumer choices of current inflationary pressures being experienced across Europe.

While Bord Bia is committed to supporting the growth in all categories of organic food production, the red meat (beef and lamb) and dairy categories are most likely to see growth in production in the short to medium term. 

Beef and sheep production currently represent the largest category of organic production in Ireland and also account for the largest land area. There are an estimated 19,500 organic suckler cows and 66,000 organic ewes on Irish farms in 2021. Leakage of animals to the conventional sector is a key issue for both sectors, although there are some indications this has reduced in recent years. Organic beef production in Ireland is estimated to have been 3,800 tonnes in 2021 while organic lamb production was in the region of 302 tonnes. 

The domestic market absorbs the largest proportion of current organic beef and lamb production however any further growth in organic red meat production will be destined for export markets. Germany is currently an important market outlet for both categories, representing 25% of organic output for both species in volume terms. Engagement in this key market has indicated there are further opportunities to grow red meat exports with opportunities also emerging in other EU countries (and the UK). Maximising on these opportunities moving forward will be subject to Ireland’s ability to overcome the current challenges and constraints of scale of supply and the seasonality of production, which is a particular issue for lamb. 

Organic dairy production is another key development opportunity, however, production in Ireland remains small. There were 75 organic dairy farms in Ireland in 2021 and these are largely located in the Southwest of the country. There has been firm growth in organic dairy production (from a small base) between 2017 and 2022, with 90% of organic dairy products produced destined for the domestic market. The remaining 10% are currently exported to several markets including Germany, UK, France, Middle East and the US. 

Bord Bia supports

Bord Bia is on track to deliver several projects to best support future growth in Irish organic production over the next few months. These include a project aiming to quantify the volume of Irish organic produce available for the domestic retail sector, and for export, within each category. This insight will enable Bord Bia to plan targeted lead generation and promotional activities in 2023 and beyond. In early autumn Bord Bia will also present the results of an in-depth study into opportunities for Irish organic produce in Sweden and Denmark, building on an investment in a similar study focusing on the German market in 2021.  The National Organic awards will be hosted by Bord Bia in October 2022 in conjunction with DAFM. The awards are hosted every two years to highlight and celebrate the achievements of Irish organic food and drink producers.