A decade of growth in organic agriculture in Europe
31 Jan 2023
The proportion of EU agricultural land devoted to organic farming increased by more than 50% over the period 2012-2020, with an annual increase of 5.7%.
In 2020, 9.1% of the EU’s agricultural area was farmed organically.
And in terms of production growth, retail sales of organic products doubled in the EU between 2015 and 2020.
These are some of the main findings of the report Agricultural Market Summary: Organic farming in Europe, published by the European Commission.
The four countries with the largest area devoted to organic farming in the EU are France, Spain, Italy and Germany, which together accounted for 52% of the total in 2012 and 59% in 2020.
Most of the area under organic farming in the EU was devoted to permanent pasture (42%), followed by green fodder (17%), cereals (16%) and permanent crops, such as fruit trees, olive trees and vineyards (11%). Despite significant growth, organic animal production still represents a small share of total EU animal production, between 1% and 7% depending on the sector.
At a time when it is crucial for the EU to reduce its dependence on fertilizers for geopolitical, environmental and economic reasons, data from the EU Farm Accountancy Data Network (FADN) show that organic production spends much less on these products and pesticides than conventional crops.
Organic arable crop farms save between 75 and 100 % in plant protection product costs per hectare and between 45 and 90 % in fertilizer costs per hectare compared to conventional farms.
On the other hand, they have lower yields on average (5-30% less for crop yields, for example) and in some sectors have a higher labor requirement to produce the same production value as conventional crops.
According to this study, they still generate similar or higher income per worker thanks to higher prices as well as higher levels of EU support, derived mainly from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
In 2020, 61.6% of EU land under organic farming received specific CAP organic support payments, with an average of EUR 144/ha of CAP support and EUR 79/ha of national co-financing.
Other rural development measures also supported the development of organic production, including investments in organic farming practices and support for the marketing and promotion of organic products. In the new CAP (from this 2023), the proportion of UAA that will receive CAP support for organic farming is higher.
The rapid increase in sales of organic products demonstrates the growth in consumer demand and the success of demand support measures.
Organic sales growth was particularly strong during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is understood to be a consequence of increased consumer attention to health issues, increased consumption of food at home and/or shortages of conventional foods. However, current economic developments, such as food inflation, affect the purchasing power of EU consumers and influence the demand for organic products.
As announced by the European Commission, producing high quality food with low environmental impact, organic farming will play a key role in the development of a sustainable food system for the EU.
In 2021, the European Commission adopted an action plan in support of the target of at least 25% of EU agricultural land devoted to organic farming and a significant increase in organic aquaculture by 2030 set out in the Farm to Fork strategy and the Biodiversity strategy.
In this context, Member States were asked to set national target values for organic farming (as % of total UAA in 2030) and to be generally ambitious with regard to organic production in their CAP strategic plans and national organic action plans.
The full report can be downloaded here.