IOFGA ORGANIC FARMERS’ CONFERENCE AT WINEPORT LODGE NEAR ATHLONE – THIRD WEEK IN NOVEMBER 2011

Having an organic growing licence means I am invited to the organic certification bodies’ conferences. This time however I needed to be there early as I was asked to chair the conference. The conference involved a 140 km drive to the lovely shores of Lough Ree and the very welcoming Wineport Lodge, near the picturesque village of Glasson, and not far from Athlone, the new HQ of IOFGA. Many attending the conference were not organic farmers, but they were interested nonetheless in getting up to date with the organic sector, and meeting other farmers, retailers, agronomists etc.

Some came to meet Minister of State for Horticulture, Mr. Shane Mc Entee TD who opened the conference. He stressed how the organic sector was at the forefront of maintaining a high standard in food production in Ireland. Farmers present were keen to infer that the Minister was supporting a GM-free crop status continuing. The Minister seemed a bit on the back foot by the GM questions. I wish he had said a GM-free status for Ireland was in the best interests of the economy and the ecology of the country, given the opposition to GM in the markets abroad to which we export. The lack of clarity seems to be another element of  ‘de-greening’  Government. IOFGA and all the partners in the www.no2gm.com campaign have a bigger challenge now without a Green element in Government. Logic, science and economic considerations should ordinarily win the day for the GM crop moratorium campaign, but the emotional blackmail from the GM lobby is frightening – claims that world hunger needs GM, for example! GM has already cost the lives of many people, mainly because it has bankrupted thousands of farmers in India – resulting in waves of rural suicides there. Irish farmers are already struggling with debts, becoming slaves to GM corporations would create more problems and is avoidable, but Government and indeed the IFA need convincing! Make your voice heard against the GM juggernaut by signing the petition www.gm-moratorium.com.

Ms. Gundula Azeez from the Soil Association based in Bristol, England, gave a well researched presentation about how organic farming is better at storing carbon than non-organic methods of farming. Global research also proves that organic farming would INCREASE yields of food in the majority of farms worldwide. If Africa went organic, yields would increase from 80 – 100%. In the USA, yield would be the same or slightly better, but organic farming uses about a third less fossil fuel energy – a very important benefit with peak oil threatening. It is mainly in Europe where organic farming means a lower yield, mainly because of reduced stocking rates required by organic standards. However, unless farming is sustainable, then it does not make sense. Organic farming is the most sustainable production system in practise, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Association. It is a pity that Minister Mc Entee had to leave before Gundula made this presentation.

Then Dr. Kim Reilly from Teagasc in Kinsealy reported on research she and colleagues are undertaking to compare organic and non-organic field vegetable production. The factors arising suggest that the specific variety of vegetable grown can be very important to get the best from whatever growing system is used.

Finally (before lunch), Déirdre Hilliard from the Midleton Farmers’ Market gave a fascinating presentation about starting out with a market stall and now developing a range of soups and other products under the brand ‘Just Foods’. Just Foods has gone on to win awards, and Just Food products are now stocked in many supermarkets. However, Déirdre keeps her stall going at the farmers’ market, not just for the income, but for the direct customer feedback which is critical to successful product development.

After lunch, members of IOFGA and the Board of Directors stayed back for the AGM, but that is a matter for the Board to report on. For me as a small time grower and veteran of organisations and committees, it was good to just partake in the discussions on developing the organic sector, a vital part of ensuring Ireland has a sustainable food economy and a healthy population as well as a resilient biodiverse ecosystem.

 

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