Do organic crops represent a genuine option for Irish farmers?

The feasibility of expanding the organic crops sector in Ireland has been the focus of discussion for tillage specialists.

Do organic crops represent a genuine option for Irish farmers?

Do organic crops represent a genuine option for Irish farmers?

The discussion on the Tillage Edge podcast has been kick-started at a time when many farmers in countries like France and Germany have moved away from conventional farming systems.

In such countries, they view organic crop production as a means of shielding their businesses form the worst excesses of climate change.

Ireland still has a relatively small organic sector. And in relative terms, the tillage sector plays an even smaller role.

Significantly, all of Ireland’s organic beef and sheep farmers are required to feed concentrate of a similar status. So, in theory, the potential to develop an organic crops sector in this country is significant.

Organic crops

There are also obvious synergies between livestock and tillage farming, where the recycling of animal manures is concerned.

However, running a stockless organic tillage farm is more challenging.

Martin Bourke is a specialist organic tillage advisor with Teagasc. He explained the pros and cons of converting from a conventional to an organic cropping business.

But before getting into the technical detail of this process, Bourke started by referencing the growth targets that have been set by the EU, regarding the development of organic tillage across Europe.

“The EU has committed to having 20% of the land in Europe farmed organically by 2030,” he confirmed.

“Ireland at the moment is only at about 2%. But a national target has been set to get this figure up to 7.5% by 2027. This is an ambitious target, however a total of €256 million has been put into a fund to boost organic farming in Ireland by the Department of Agriculture [Food and the Marine].

“Back in 2019, there were 134 organic cereal growers in Ireland. But we know that this figure has climbed by between 25 and 30 since then,” he added.

According to Bourke, Teagasc is expecting a significant number of additional tillage farmers to switch from conventional growing systems. Driving this will be the support funding available through the new Organic Farming Scheme.

Organic Farming Scheme

Bourke went on to point out that the new measure will work on the basis of a five-year plan.

“There are different rates of payment available, depending on how many years a farm business has committed to the scheme,” he said.

“In the first two years of conversion, tillage farmers will receive a €320/ha support payment up to 70ha.

“Above this level, a support payment of €60/ha will be made available. It takes two years to achieve full organic status. So in years three to five, the payments come back by €50/ha to €270/ha.”

In addition to these specific support measures, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) is also making available a specific participation payment to take part in the scheme in the first place.

This works out at €2,000 up front in the first year, and €1,400 per annum for each year after that.

So, for a grower farming 40ha of organic cereals, this would translate to a total support payment of approximately €15,000 during the first year of participation in the scheme.


Bourke believes that a combination of the support payments now available, and the extensive financial outlay now required to grow conventional cereals, will encourage significant numbers of Irish tillage farmers to look seriously at organic production systems.

“There’s no doubt that many cereal growers are now very concerned about the high cost of fertiliser and, beyond that, the availability of product over the coming weeks and months,” he said.

“This issue alone is focusing farmers’ minds on different alternative for the future. Many growers will not yet have had an opportunity to fully review the outcome of the 2022 harvest.

“It has been a case of getting on with the job of planting-out winter cereals over recent weeks. But when the dust settles, I think that many farmers will be genuinely attracted to the options now available to them courtesy of tillage organic.”

The average spring oat yield in Ireland over the past five years has come in at 2.9t/ac. This level of output has been delivering a gross margin of €292/ac.

According to Bourke, an organically grown crop of spring oats will deliver an average yield of 1.8t/ac. The premium for organic oats in 2022 is in the region of €420/t. As a result, organic oat growers in Ireland are currently generating a gross margin of €575/ac.

“This is quite a difference. And these figures do not include any organic support payments,” he continued.

“So for a 100ha cereal grower entering the new organic farming scheme, that person would be €45,000 better off across the business, relative to conventional growers.

“But even if there was no premium available for their organic oats, growers would still end up generating a gross margin of €323/ac, approximately €30 ahead of conventional growers.”

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