In order to meet Ireland’s climate targets, adhere here to the EU’s ‘farm to fork’ strategy and to remain competitive and food secure within a rapidly changing global food system, we must adopt sustainable food production principles and practices. At An Taisce’s Legacy4LIFE project, we believe that organic farming can form part of the solution.

Organic farming has a multitude of associated benefits for the environment, for animals and for society. This article by Natural Environment Intern, Liz McAuley, outlines some of the ways these complex systems can flourish under organic farming methods. 

To begin, what is organic farming? 

Organic farming is a system of farming which adheres to specific standards to produce healthy  food benefitting both our land and our biodiversity. Relying on non-chemical methods for pest and disease control and fertility management, organic farming facilitates healthier soils and thus a more sustainable food system. Synthetically compounded fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides, growth regulators and livestock feed additives are either severely restricted or totally excluded in the organic farming model. 

To become an organic farmer, one must follow a registration process, complete an organic farming course and become approved by a registered certification organisation to ultimately be permitted to sell produce which display organic labelling, facilitating confidence and trust in the consumer’s purchase.

In a national report on biodiversity published by a joint committee on Environment and Climate Action, organic farming was highlighted as extremely suited to the Irish landscape and environment, performing better in terms of absolute emissions per hectare in comparison to conventional farms and often providing increased employment and viability.

In light of this, lets dig into some of the main benefits we see associated with organic farming;

What are the benefits of organic farming to our Climate targets?

Organic farming forms a central component of strategies to reduce emissions from the agricultural sector, both nationally and at an EU level. The European ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy is at the heart of the ‘European Green Deal’ which represents Europe’s driving policy mechanism towards its 2050 goal of climate neutrality and outlines a target of 25% of European agricultural land to be under organic production by 2030. 

At national level, Ireland’s CAP 2023 advises to increase the amount of organically farmed hectares from the current 72’000 to 250' 000 hectares by 2025, with this area increasing to 450,000 by 2030. The Organic Farming Scheme has seen a 20% increase in applicants in 2022 in comparison to 2021, bringing in an expected additional 17,000 hectares. Furthermore, Ireland’s Food Vision 2030 is geared toward the goal of climate neutrality in the farming sector by 2050, with an intermediate target for organically farmed land to reach an area of 7.5% by 2030. If these goals are achieved, it is estimated that a 5% ammonia emissions reduction will result. 

While challenges remain in establishing a tangible path to measuring and reducing emissions from the agricultural sector, increased uptake of organic farming forms a step in the right direction.

The big picture is that the largely reduced rate of fossil fuel-based fertilisers and synthetically made pesticides used in organic farming significantly reduces the carbon footprint associated with the energy required to produce these chemicals. As well as this, carbon sequestration is facilitated through organic practices due to the importance placed on soil health under this system. Some studies go as far as to say that a worldwide adoption of diversified organic farming, promoting healthy and functional soils could lead to the farming sector absorbing more carbon than it emits by the end of this century.

How can organic farming help to restore Ireland’s Biodiversity?

In May 2019 the Dail declared that the nation was not only in a climate, but also in a biodiversity emergency. Although, internationally we are known as the Emerald Isle, ecologists and scientists have been sounding warnings of our Green Desert , with each year seeing new records for habitat and species loss. 

While the farming industry is not the sole source of such environmental pressures, it cannot be denied that intensive farming practices put huge pressure on our waterways and habitats, pushing nature ever further into small pockets in the landscape. 

Organic farming can help to alleviate these pressures, and enable our farmers to take pride of place as stewards of the land and nature. 

The reduction of run-off from synthetic fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides is key to restoring the condition of our waterways. This restoration can then provide a healthy habitat for many native species including Atlantic Salmon and Freshwater Pearl Mussel, both of which are today considered vulnerable and threatened. Minimising the use of these harmful chemicals is not only beneficial to our waterways,  but allows a diversity of species to thrive, including our ever so important pollinators which have a larger presence and higher reproduction rates on organic farms. Organically farmed land is also more likely to have semi-natural areas where habitat can regenerate and flourish, compared to conventionally farmed land.

The evidence that organic farming systems promote biodiversity has been presented in numerous papers and studies, yet you need just visit an organic farm to see the merits. In summer the bees will be humming and the birds will be busy and bustling, in the winter you might spy an early fox or a rare red squirrel. Throughout the year the nearby stream runs clean enough to tempt a refreshing dunk, while providing a safe source for wetland creatures. All you need to do is listen and watch to understand how nature recovers and rebounds as we work with it rather than against.  

Organic farming has many Social and Economic benefits too

The Irish family farm has been a pillar of rural societies for decades. However, these farms are unfortunately declining in number as farmers face issues such as intergenerational farm succession, economic viability and climate change. Organic farming can form an economically viable alternative, with it naturally having lower input costs than say a conventional dairy farming which is considered to be a high input system in need of large upfront investments. Organic farmers can charge a premium for their quality produce and in that sense make more from less. Initial investments and costs associated with conversion are largely subsidised, with increased payment rates announced before the last Organic Farming Scheme (OFS), to make this an even more attractive and competitive option for farmers.

Trends both at EU and at national level are pointing to a consistent growth in consumer demand for a wide range of organically produced products. This trend is illustrated by the fact that the EU organic market has more than doubled in size between 2012 and 2021.


At home, the demand for healthy organic produce is increasing, matching the trend across the European Union and illustrating the scope for greater organic production. In 2021, Bord Bia commissioned research which showed a 19% growth in retail sales of organic produce  since 2019 and that total retail sales of organic food over a 52 week period from 2020 to 2021 were valued at €221, an increase of 2.7$ from 2020.Despite the demand for organic produce, in the horticulture sector we are still importing 70% of our organic fruit and vegetables to meet consumer demand even though our climate is suitable to grow nearly all of what we import with the help of polytunnels and aquaponics. Increasing this local production of organic produce which require less external inputs can also greatly improve food security. The ongoing situation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has highlighted our fragile reliance on fertilisers and feed used in high input conventional systems, organic systems not only have fewer external inputs which increases resilience, but also is proven to increase resistance to pests and disease, strengthening our agricultural systems and building food security.

Where does Irish organic farming currently stand?

According to this year's Climate Action Plan (CAP 23), Ireland’s current level of organic farming sits at less than 3%, which is considerably lower than the EU average of 9.1% of total farmed land. As trends both at EU and at national level point to a consistent growth in consumer demand for a wide range of organically produced products, it is likely that this number will continue to increase over the coming years, with benefits for biodiversity and climate.

An Taisce's Legacy4LIFE ‘Advancing farm to fork’ project is accelerating this pathway by engaging with stakeholders to identify and address potential barriers associated with organic farming and promote the benefits. Head over to the project’s website to learn more about how exactly the Legacy4LIFE aims to support and accelerate this transition.

So, what can you do?

Here's where we come in as the consumer: Buying locally produced organic products can result in emissions savings from both the production method and transport of your food thus supporting these more climate sensitive systems. A recent survey of 1006 Irish consumers found that 47% - just under half, are willing to spend a little bit extra for food which has been produced organically. Locally produced organic purchases support not only your health and your environment but also provide employment and wages in a closed loop system, robustly benefiting the local economy.