Processor in 'horrible position' due to lack of organic beef supply – Irish Examiner

In Ireland “we’re killing 1.7 million conventional cattle per year” and “of that, we’re only killing 11,000 organic, that’s less than 1%”.
Because of the “absolutely huge” demand for organic beef, both domestically and in Europe, a processor has said it is in a “horrible position” of telling current and potential customers that “hopefully” there will be more volume next year.
John Purcell of Good Herdsmen said that “we’re so short of organic beef at the moment” despite demand from all its retailers and “just can’t supply it”.
“We’ve a very unique product in Ireland, particularly in the steak meat area,” Mr Purcell said.
“We’re top of the pops if you like out in Europe with our steak quality, and no other country is able to match that.”
In Ireland, he said, “we’re killing 1.7m conventional cattle per year” and “of that, we’re only killing 11,000 organic, that’s less than 1%”.
“In Europe, 9% of their national kills combined are organic,” he continued.
“So we’ve such a catching up to do, we’re the biggest exporter of beef in the northern hemisphere, we’re the fourth largest in the world. We’re not using that asset, those routes to market we have.”

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He said a lot of people speak of there being no market for organic produce, but “that’s not true”.
“We have the routes to market, we have the demand,” he said.
“I reckon with the ambitious targets set by the minister of 7.5%, it’s very achievable.
“That would mean an extra 14,000 cattle per year for the next five years. We could handle that,” Mr Purcell said
He said Ireland has “plenty capacity, we have the routes to market”.
“I represent one particular company but there are five, six good players in this market that have historic routes to market and they’re dealing with the top blue-chip retailers in Europe.
“There’s no reason why we cannot back our organic skews into those supermarkets.”
Message ‘has to be very strong’
With the Organic Farming Scheme set to close to new applications in the coming weeks, and those who are accepted on the scheme doing a two-year conversion period, Mr Purcell said the processor can “estimate ourselves how many cattle will that represent in two years’ time so we have plenty lead time to get our markets established”.
At the moment, the premium is about 15%, he said.
Dairy farmer John Kiersey said farmers “need encouragement from processors, demanding that they want more organic food if they’re going to get farms to buy into organics”.
He said if there is going to be an effect on the market, the number of farmers, especially dairy farmers needs to increase, and “we need processors who are out there looking for farms to convert to organics and that message has to be very strong”.
Bord Bia’s Joe Burke said it is receiving feedback from existing customers of Irish organic beef and other products that they “would buy more if it is available”.
“Looking at global forecasts for the next five years, it’s projected that global meat demand will grow by about 2% per year which is a surprising figure when you think of people either choosing to eat more plant-based diets,” he said.
“But at the same time, we have all of this population growth, we’ve globalisation or rather increasing affluence in many regions [despite] the crises including in Ukraine.
“There is a specific cohort particularly in the developed economies like in Europe where you have people who are these so-called flexitarians.
“They’re not necessarily heavy consumers of a lot of protein and in many cases they’re not even eating a big helping of meat every day but where they are choosing to eat meat, they want that to be the highest possible quality that they can get their hands on,” Mr Burke said
“They’re not necessarily buying big portions or big steaks or anything like that; in most cases, they’re probably cooking for themselves and their families and they want it to be really high quality; they want it to be nutritious; and they want it to be ethical.
“So in a lot of cases they can identify really, really closely with organic and organic from Ireland as well is a natural fit for a lot of those customers.”
With input costs increasing significantly, “the game has changed”, Mr Burke said, and while recently organic has represented a “very small percentage of production”, “it’s not like we’re trying to convince everyone to go down this route but it is a really viable option that everyone should be considering now at the moment”.

“It’s not necessarily for everyone, but it does reflect that Ireland has a number of natural advantages which do fit really well with the organic sector and it’s certainly an opportunity for a number of producers there — be it in the beef, sheep and indeed some dairy producers,” Mr Burke added.
In Ireland, about 2% of the land area is farmed organically, around 74,000 hectares.
In the EU, organics occupy 9.1% of the total utilised agricultural area — and because of this, organic “cannot be considered a niche anymore”, according to Elena Panichi, head of organics unit, DG Agriculture and Rural Development, European Commission.
The Farm to Fork strategy has set a target of reaching 25% organic land in the EU by 2030.
Ms Panichi said there is a “real challenge in front of us, but are we ready to embrace” it, and described organics as “one of the most dynamic sectors” of agriculture.
“Another challenge is that the difference between the countries is really wide,” she noted.
“Certain countries have already a substantial land occupied by organics, for instance, Austria, Sweden, and Estonia, but other countries lag behind; also there are substantial differences in consumption.”
In terms of organic retail sales, the organic sector was worth almost €45bn in 2020, and the EU is the second single largest market after North America followed by Asia.
The organic market in Ireland is worth €189m, Ms Panichi said.
“One peculiarity is that organic livestock is very important in Ireland but still represents 1% of the total livestock in the country,” Ms Panichi noted.
“From the consumers’ perspective, a survey we did a few years ago showed that consumers basically choose organic because they are concerned about the environment.
“So really, they embrace the environmental aspect of organics and they want a GMO-free product and try to avoid food containing pesticide residues.”
The highest penetration of organic is in eggs, fresh fruit, vegetables, and dairy.
Imports of organic produce to the EU have been stable through the years, set at less than 3m tonnes annually, with imports coming from Ecuador, Dominican Republic, China, and Ukraine, Ms Panichi added.
Tropical fruits, nuts, and spices are among the produce most imported.

Teagasc director of knowledge transfer Stan Lalor said that a number of key priorities have been identified by the body in this area.
“Moving forward, one of the areas where I think we need to be very active is in presenting farmers with the blueprint for different production systems, which can be identified to match the needs of the potential market we can generate, but that farmers can identify with something, see the full package of what they need to do and what they need to take on,” Mr Lalor said.
“Individual farmers looking at the options still need to take on board a big picture message, but you still need to individualise that and see where does that fit in with the context of the soils of my farm, the size of my farm, the fragmentation of my farm, what the conversion process would look like.
“Those types of discussions and decision-making that need to happen at an individual farm level is where the advisor kicks in so that’s an area where we’re looking to put in more resources as well.”
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