OLIVER MOORE looks back over the year 2012, from an organic farming and food perspective.To look back over the year just had, and into the one that's just begun, the late Minister of State Shane McEntee's recent passing is an apt place to start.
Its fair to say that organic farming and food were not a big part of his thinking before his Ministry, but once in there, he applied himself to it with gusto.
Biofach, the world's largest organic trade fare, was his Eureka moment. There he saw, as he said at the National Organic conference, 1 in 4 products on the shelf's of German supermarkets were organic.
His passing is undoubtedly a sad moment. In organic farming terms, his untimely death also inevitably leaves the sector in an even weaker position vis-a-vis the CAP negotiations and the EU presidency.
For whoever the next minister is, reading into the organic farming brief some time during this month makes for a very tight timeframe. Making the organic case, sensible and all as it is, will be far more difficult for a novice in this rarefied CAP negotiations environment. Here's hoping for a politician competent and committed in equal measure, to take up the reigns.
In weather terms, organic vegetable producers found 2012 to be the worst in a Century. The so-called-summer was one to forget and, hopefully, never be repeated. However, the vast majority of climate change experts predict extremes and unpredictability, so organic growers will have to try to adjust and adapt for the future. Expect a lot more reliance on protected cropping in 2013, and innovations like ducks as slug eaters.
Growth in the overall organic sector was slow but steady in 2012. Gone are the days of rapid growth in the numbers joining the scheme in Ireland. Nevertheless, there is still a slow increase in numbers joining, and now, consolidation in the market here again. (Surely Bord Bia can provide stats for the export market for Irish organic produce for 2013?)
While the market in Ireland and the UK are stable, in the rest of the EU it is growing as if there is no recession. Sales in Mario Monti's Italy grew by 6.1% in the first half of 2012; the organic area in France passed 1 million hectares in 2012, where yearly organic sales passed E4 billion. In northern European countries like Germany and Denmark, sales and growth are stronger again.
BRIC country growth in organic food consumption – that's Brazil, Russia, India, China – is the strongest of all. The conventional sector has certainly stepped up to meet BRIC markets.
Can or will the organic sector meet EU and global demand? As usual, its meat and milk where the main opportunities lie, and where Bord Bia's main focus is. Will organic food get even proportional support? Its worth remembering that, technically, Harvest 2020 has a 5% target for organic farming: So how about 5% of the R&D, as well as marketing budgets?
2012 also featured high profile moments which challenged the organic sector. In Ireland, these included the Teagasc GM potato trial, and the free reign given to UCD Professor of Nutrition Mike Gibney, across almost all significant radio and print media outlets.
Globally, the Stanford research which suggested that there were no significant differences between organic and conventional food also hit the headlines.
It never fails to amaze this author how, these days, the vast majority of the mainstream media ignores research that suggests organic food is in fact more nutritious. Since 2009, there have been 5 meta-analyses that compared organic and conventional in nutritional terms. Three have found organic to be superior, two have found no significant difference.
Of course, with the nitrogen cycle, biodiversity loss and climate change being completely out of kilter with the planet's natural boundaries and with historical declines in the nutritional levels of individual foods over recent decades, the very fact that organic can produce food that's as nutritious as conventional is a positive.
How farming, both organic and conventional, adjust to these planetary boundaries will define a lot more than just 2013.