Thursday, 21 February 1991
Dáil Éireann Debate
80. Mr. Bell asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the level of production of organic food in the various categories in the past five years; the plans he has to give special assistance for the encouragement and development of organic food production; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Minister of State at the Department of Agriculture and Food (Mr. Kirk): I propose to take Questions Nos. 14 and 80 together. The information sought by  Deputy Bell concerning the production levels of organic food is not available to my Department. A sum of £350,000 was provided in the Estimates for my Department in both 1990 and 1991 for the development of organic farming for which a special unit was established in the Department.
In addition, last year's allocation was used to support the following projects: (1) a research and development programme by Teagasc into specific organic farming practices most suitable to Irish conditions, (2) market research by CBF into the potential organic meat market in Europe, (3) the inclusion of new organic farming modules in UCD's and Teagasc's education and training courses, (4) establishment of SFADCo's Organic Development Centre for the Shannon region, (5) improvement of the structures and services of the Irish Organic Farmers and Growers Association, and (6) production of a video on organic farming suitable for training and promotional purposes.
Furthermore, a study of the needs of the Irish organic horticultural sector was undertaken by representatives of my Department and other interests. The recommendations of the study are being implemented by the Department, An Bord Glas and the industry, as appropriate. An information leaflet on organic farming was prepared and is now available on request. A number of projects for funding in the current year are now under consideration.
Mr. Kirk: I do not have the information the Deputy requires but I think he knows from his close knowledge of the industry that organic produce is a relatively small percentage of the overall produce. Most of the food we consume in this country is produced by conventional means. Nonetheless the organic market is growing. The primary reason for the  provision of £450,000 in 1990 was to help establish the organic unit in the Department of Agriculture and Food. The structure is established there and we are working together with the Organic Growers' Association, Teagasc, the people in UCD and with CBF who are researching the market potential in Europe. The work is at a relatively preliminary stage. Nonetheless the objectives are being set out to identify the extent of the market, to monitor growth in that market and to respond accordingly.
Mr. Deasy: Would the Minister not agree that a target would be extremely desirable? With the vibes and leaks coming from Europe it would appear that conventional farming will suffer. There seems to be a tremendous future for organic farming. Should the Minister not be setting in train a specific target to be attained over a certain number of years?
Mr. Kirk: Naturally we will be considering the points made by the Deputy, but we have to have regard to the fact that the work is at a preliminary stage. We will monitor the responses from the marketplace and will set the objectives and the targets accordingly.
Mr. Kavanagh: Would the Minister not agree that the farmers about whom we have expressed concern today, particularly the smaller farmers, should be targeted for this type of production? Help should be given directly to those farmers.
Mr. Kirk: We are ready, willing and able to help anybody who has an interest in commencing organic production. If these people wish to contact my office or the Department of Agriculture and Food generally we will endeavour to help and advise them as best we can.
Mr. Leonard: Mention was made earlier of rural development and EC funding. Would it not be a good idea if pilot schemes were set up to carry out indepth  examinations of alternative farm enterprises. Heretofore alternative enterprises were set up and after some time it was found they were not viable. Would it not be a good idea to set up pilot schemes to examine organic production?
Mr. Deenihan: In his reply the Minister mentioned the organic centre at Raheen in Limerick. Will he ensure that adequate funding is provided so that that centre can promote the idea of organic farming in the mid-west region?
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