The area under organic farming in the European Union (EU) has increased by 41% within five years reaching 14.8 million hectares in 2020, according to a report published by the European Commission.
EU agricultural land farmed organically grew by more than 50% in the 2012-2020 period, with an annual increase of 5.7% across all member states, except Poland.
France, Spain, Italy and Germany accounted for 59% of the total agricultural area under organics in 2020. Despite an EU average of 9.1%, Ireland‘s organic area remained below 2%.
The Organic farming in the EU – a decade of organic growth report shows that there has been a growing trend in organic production and consumption between 2010 and 2020.
The retail sales of organic products in the EU doubled between 2015 and 2020 reaching 44.8 billion, of which a most was concentrated in Germany and France, accounting for 33.5% and 28.3% respectively.
Organic food imports into the EU – from over 120 countries – increased by 6% to 2.87 million tonnes in 2021, which was mainly due to the demand for tropical fruit, in particular bananas from Ecuador and the Dominican Republic.
The largest share of the area farmed organically in the EU was dedicated to permanent grassland (42%), followed by green fodder (17%); cereals (16%); and permanent crops, such as fruit, olives and vineyards (11%).
Despite significant growth, organic animal production across member states still accounts for a small share of total EU animal production, ranging between 1% and 7% depending on the sector.
About 6% of the cattle herd and 7.2% of the sheep and goat flocks are raised organically, compared to 3.6% of poultry and 1% of pigs. The organic production of poultry and pigs, however, grows at a faster rate of 9% and 11% respectively.
Over 50% of organic cattle are raised in Germany, France, Austria and Italy, which together with Denmark also account for the production of three quarters of EU organic milk. However, the overall share of organic milk in total milk production was 3.7% in 2020.
On average, organic farms across the EU are run by younger farm managers. In 2020 around 21% of organic farms had a manager aged under 40, while this proportion was only 12% in conventional farms.
The report states that the environmental, economic and social benefits of organic farming vary significantly across sectors and member states.
Organic arable crop farms, for instance, save 75-100% on plant protection product costs per hectare and 45-90% on fertiliser costs per hectare compared to conventional farms.
However, organic farms have 5-30% lower crop yields on average, for example, and in some sectors have a greater need for labour to produce the same output value as conventional farms.
In 2020, 61.6% of EU land under organic farming received specific support payments from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), with on average €144/ha of CAP support and €79/ha of national co-financing.
By Rubina Freiberg