Dear Organic Trust Member

We wanted to reach out to you to let you know that we are continuing to work on your behalf in this time of COVID-19. Our members are our priority during this unprecedented experience, which has brought dramatic change to consumer eating and shopping habits. With this in mind, we have put together some ideas and information that we hope you will find helpful.

You will notice that we have set up a community forum on our website to facilitate engagement between our members – please use this noticeboard to interact and exchange opportunities with others. We in the office are working on a restricted schedule (Monday to Friday, 10am to 2pm) but are here if you need to discuss any specific challenges or concerns (our landline is 045 88 23 77 and mobile is 083 849 9035).

We wish to reassure you that, as organic licensing is based on the preceding year’s inspection, your organic certification is not affected by the current restrictions, even if you have not yet been inspected in 2020. For those of you who have been inspected since January, you can expect communication from us in this regard in the coming days. We ask those of you who have not yet submitted your Annual Returns to do so with urgency. It is vital that the office maintains administrative efficiency so that when things do return to normal, we are ready to take on the rest of the year.

Please also note that the Extension to Holding deadline remains fixed on 15th May 2020, as prescribed by DAFM.

DAFM has provided extensive information and useful FAQs relating to COVID-19 restrictions and protocols on their website. Although their offices are currently closed to the public, a COVID-19 telephone helpline for farmers has been set up on 076 1064468 (open from 9.30am – 12.30m and 2pm – 5pm).

The Livestock Situation

Despite the frightening case of millions of litres of milk being dumped in the UK
and with all sectors in an unsteady and uncertain economic environment, on the whole, organic markets appear to be doing relatively well.

Organic meat exports to Europe and especially Italy have stagnated, but the home market has increased, which is helping to buffer the fluctuations. Organic beef prices last week were at €4.82/kg for Angus cattle and €4.70/kg for other breeds. This price is excellent considering conventional beef is at €3.20. Due to restaurants being closed, it is forecasted that there will be an oversupply of spring lamb; however, new-season organic lambs are currently making €7.13/kg in the factories.

It is likely that the market for cull cows and “out of spec” cattle (over 30 months) will struggle over this period as most of these animals would typically have supplied the catering and restaurant industry.

All livestock marts have been closed due to the restrictions; however, Drumshanbo Mart will host a virtual organic sale on Saturday the 18th of April. This virtual sale is an innovative approach to keep avenues of trade open for organic farmers. Contact the mart on 071 96 41116 for details and to book animals in no later than the 17th of April.

Classifieds websites are also an excellent option for continuing trade. The Organic Trust Classified Section is always available to support our members. Other sites include DoneDeal and Haystack. Herdwatch farm management app has added the COVID  Cattle Exchange as a free service to their website. Please remember to include a Sales Declaration Form, a copy of your Organic Licence and to fulfill the DAFM Animal Movement requirements with every sale.

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) has issued specific guidance for private veterinary practitioners and farmers when TB testing cattle during the current COVID-19 outbreak. Details of the protocol are linked here.

As the crisis in the global dairy market deepens, and the UK spot price for liquid milk dropped to 0p last week, Irish organic dairy products seem to be holding their own. Glenisk has seen yogurt sales rise and liquid milk sales are steady so far. To date, there is no evidence of any disruption to farmers supplying Aurvio with organic milk either.

The many organic farmers who market their products through direct-sales, box schemes and other short food-chains are reporting a massive rise in demand. The dynamic nature and resilience of local food producers are proving to be of great value to their communities nationwide. A silver-lining of this pandemic may be a long-lasting appreciation of organic producers and perhaps even future policies to support and develop these models.

Online Marketplaces

In response to the Government decision to close farmers’ markets for social distancing reasons, the range of alternative selling opportunities have become ever more important. Below are some options for you to consider when selling your produce. All of these were in existence prior to COVID-19 but can offer a lifeline to producers now. We have included details and links to some of these ‘marketplaces’, which are enabling consumers to access quality foods in complete safety. Many organic producers are reporting a significant increase in demand – here’s hoping this continues long after the COVID era.

Foodture connects citizens to Fair Food Producers in Ireland, also offering them a platform to tell their stories. The website contains a map showing producer locations and contact details, allowing the customer to make direct contact.

Your Local Food Network is another excellent platform for getting your produce into the public domain. They have groups across the country who sign up to the Simple Food Pledge, which guarantees local, ethical, organically principled produce to the consumer. Again, a map is available on the website which allows customers to find their local source of a wide range of products and make direct contact.

Neighbourfood allows customers to buy online directly from local farmers/producers. The emphasis is heavily on local, ethical and quality. Customers can order all kinds of organic produce which are then available for collection at a set time and place, mostly contactless at the moment. It’s brilliantly simple and easy to use. Some of the markets are also offering free delivery for older or vulnerable people at this time.

Area-Based Networks
There are several instances nationwide of area-based food networks; localised groups of high-end producers/processors who have come together to appeal to a niche market. Tipperary Food ProducersBoyne Valley Flavours and Wexford Food Family are some great examples. In each of these, the main website offers information on the members and links to their individual contact options. Although these particular examples are well established and finely honed, their success could be used as a template for interested parties to come together quickly and effectively in the current circumstances.

Thoughts for Growers

Some of our horticultural members have been pleasantly surprised at the steep rise in direct and online sales during the pandemic. This is largely in response to the dramatic fall in imports from Spain, Italy and other severely affected areas but proves very clearly that Ireland can produce greater quantities of organic fruit and veg.

Equally, however, we are only too aware that those of our members selling into restaurants and other food outlets may be experiencing serious concerns at this time. We are therefore highlighting a few adaptations from growers around the country who are managing to sell directly to their customers while abiding by the COVID-19 distancing protocols.

Note that we are currently permitting farmgate sales of horticultural produce. Organic producers who have not previously provided farmgate sales should let us know what they have planned to ensure compliance is maintained. Please do so prior to selling. Feel free to use our forum on the website to mention any other innovations you have come across which may be useful to your fellow OT members.

Hilda and Dominic from Castleruddery Organic Farm in County Wicklow have turned their farm shop into a thriving collection hub for their growing list of customers. They are operating a collection service for a set duration every week with the strict rules that only one person queues at any one time and that payments are by card. This goes some way in compensating for the loss of other income streams at the present time and thankfully, they are busy keeping on top of demand. You can visit them on Instagram at @casorgfarm

Jenny and Patrick McNally have, similarly, turned their farm shop into a COVID-compliant collection point. The McNallys are renowned in the greater Dublin area for their market stalls and restaurant client list, most of which is on hold at the current time. Nonetheless, business is thriving from the direct sales and customers are clearly willing to collect from the site. McNally Farm is on Instagram at @mcnallyfamilyfarm

Other growers are using the honesty box concept (covered in Clover 2019) as a sales outlet, although this probably works best on a small scale and where it can be monitored fairly regularly. Space permitting, growers could set up an honesty shop – Regan Organic (poultry) Farm in Wexford are doing just that and are inundated with demand. The idea is also being expanded, however, as a collection-point method: growers are leaving boxes of fresh produce of varying sizes and prices at an agreed location, with the boxes labelled by the customer. Payment can be left at the location or transferred online in advance.

Yet more members are offering delivery services. Denis Healy of Organic Delights in Co Wicklow has taken to the road to reach his customers. Up until the ‘lockdown’, customers were collecting from the farm but now Denis is taking orders based on a list he sends out via WhatsApp and customers pay in advance electronically. The whole process is contactless, fully safe and is enabling the business to shift the bounty of kale, spinach and leaves in the fields. Best of all, it’s keeping the kids busy! Denis has given us permission to share his number if anyone wishes to make contact: 087 2485826.

If deliveries are new to you, be sure to establish some boundaries about how far you are willing to travel, your ordering schedule and deadline, where to leave the produce at the address (keep yourself safe) and transfer of payment. Social media is a great way to keep your customers informed in this regard – cheap, easy and immediate. As we are now in the hungry gap, maybe you could join forces with another local food producer (baker, cheesemaker, jam-maker?) to increase your range in the short-term. Don’t forget to bring identification on your rounds, in case you are stopped by the Gardaí.

Eat Farm Now in the UK has launched a fantastic educational resource called #lockdownlearning aimed at primary school children on lockdown! It has lots of wonderful videos made by farmers and food producers filled with fun facts and information.

Check out the NOTS website for their growing range of innovative online courses – so you can continue learning during COVID-19 lockdown.

Here is another lovely resource for you or the kids from Museu del Ter in Catalonia to help learn and identify bird songs. This website defaults to Catalan – just click the translate option for English.