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Minister Pippa Hackett, Minister of State for Land Use and Biodiversity launched the first Masters in Organic Farming in Ireland at Waterford Institute of Technology (WIT) on Thursday, 3 February 2022. Developed by National Organic Training (NOTS) Skillnet and Skillnet Ireland in partnership with WIT, the course will have its first full intake in September 2022.

The Organic Farming and Biological Agriculture Masters is one of eight new flexible courses from WIT’s School of Science & Computing which will upskill farmers, producers and growers in organic and biological agriculture practices. Recognising that WIT is one of the largest providers of land sciences education in Ireland and has undergraduate degrees in agriculture, agricultural science, food science, forestry, horticulture and land management, Minister Hackett welcomed this course in particular. She said:

“Farmers, advisors and policymakers need an increased level of knowledge and understanding of soil health and organic farming, so I am delighted to see this Masters in Organic and Biological Agriculture becoming available. I am sure the breadth of flexible study options will be very attractive and will help hugely in our drive towards developing organic agriculture here to levels experienced across Europe. Our targets are sizeable. Today only 2% of our land is under organic production, but we are aiming to increase that 90,000 hectares to 350,000 hectares, or 7.5% of our land, by 2030. It’s a big task but a very worthwhile one, as it is also an important step in helping us reach our commitments to Climate Action through a reduction in greenhouse gases, and improved biodiversity and water quality.

In addition to a Masters, Postgraduate Diploma and Certificate in Organic and Biological Agriculture, WIT has developed certificates in crop management, livestock management, food health and nutrition, soil health and water management, agroforestry and landscape biodiversity, project management and marketing, and research methods.

Prof Peter McLoughlin, Head of School of Science & Computing noted that “These programmes were based on a needs assessment carried out in conjunction with the National Organic Training Skillnet (NOTS), farmers, growers, and producers on the ground, and among other industry stakeholders. The course content has been developed by staff with expertise in key areas, with many actively engaged in research and farming. The programme will also be informed by organic growers and producers in Ireland.”

Sean McGloin, Manager of NOTS, said “Through our engagement with farmers, growers and producers, NOTS identified an increased demand for, and interest in, specific areas including soil biology and health, more integrated approaches to livestock management and the strategic use of agroforestry to enhance on-farm biodiversity. In combination, all these areas lead to better climate resilience on Irish farms. Funded as part of the Skillnet Ireland Future Dynamics initiative, new programmes like this will help growers and producers to enhance their knowledge and skills.”

Dave Flynn, Executive Director, Skillnet Ireland, said: “Ensuring businesses have the green skills they need to embrace more sustainable practices is a key priority for Skillnet Ireland. We are delighted to support NOTS and WIT on the development of the MSc in Organic and Biological Agriculture which will deliver a pipeline of skilled graduates over the coming years, enabling our vital agriculture sector to continue to adapt and thrive and accelerating the growth of Ireland’s bio-economy.”

John Geraghty, Programme Leader at WIT, says that the new suite of courses are also well suited to farmers not already implementing organic or biological agriculture on the ground. “The skills and knowledge will help conventional farmers change methods and practices. That’s where the real change will happen. It will give a scientific foundation to implementing practical changes for farmers on the ground to deliver productive and profitable crop and livestock production. Many farmers are looking to transition to low input systems. As well as the climate imperative there are very practical reasons such as cost reduction for farmers to upskill in organic and biological agriculture practices.”

Dr Orla O Donovan, Head of the Department of Science at WIT, emphasises the flexibility of the programmes. “The programmes have been developed for flexibility and with the need of mature learners in mind. The individually certified modules within the Masters programme will each run for 12 weeks and will consist of webinars, virtual sessions, laboratory and field assessments and visits to farms, growers and producers. The flexible structure of the programme will enable participants to graduate with either individual certificates, grouped certificates, or complete a two-year programme for a Postgraduate Diploma or an MSc in Organic and Biological Agriculture.”

Learn more by visiting the NOTS website www.nots.ie.

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