New Masters in Organic and Biological Agriculture at WIT

Minister Pippa Hackett launched the first Masters in Organic and Biological Agriculture in Ireland at WIT. Pictured with the Minister are John Geraghty, programme leader and lecturer in the Department of Science; farmer James 'Cam' Foley, Coolydoody Farm, Ballyduff Upper, Co Waterford who is making the move to organic farming and Sean McGloin, manager of National Organic Training Skillnet (NOTS) which the course was developed in partnership with. (Picture: Patrick Browne)

The first Master’s degree programme in Organic and Biological Agriculture in Ireland was launched at Waterford Institute of Technology last week.

Launched by Minister of State for Land Use and Biodiversity, Minister Pippa Hackett, the programme was developed in partnership with National Organic Training Skillnet.

“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,” Minister Hackett said,

The new MSc will have its first full intake in September 2022.

The MSc is one of 10 new flexible courses from the Department of Science in WIT’s School of Science & Computing which will upskill farmers, producers and growers in organic and biological agriculture practices.

John Geraghty, programme leader, 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,” Mr Geraghty said.

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

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.

“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,” Mr McLoughlin said.

According to Minister Pippa Hackett, only 2% of Irish land is currently under organic production and the aim is to increase this from 90,000 hectares to 350,000 hectares, or 7.5% of 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,” Minister Hackett concluded.