The organic principles
Farming organically means respecting the principles, rules and requirements of organic farming. Anyone wishing to become an organic farmer should make sure that they are familiar with the necessary legislation so that they are fully aware of their responsibilities.
Before starting any activity in the organic sector, you should contact the competent agricultural authority in your country. They can provide information as to which support measures are available and more general advice.
All food producers, processors or traders who wish to market their food as organic need to be registered with a control agency or body. The control agency or body is responsible for verifying that the operator acts in compliance with organic rules. Each EU country can decide whether this is a public or a private body but they all check that the European Union’s rules on organic production are followed.
If you wish to become an organic farmer, you must be certificated through a control body.
This involves a yearly inspection and a set of checks to make sure you comply with the rules on organic production.
Any farm that wishes to produce organically has to undergo a process known as 'conversion'. During this period, organic production methods need to be used but the resulting product cannot be sold as organic. The length of this conversion period depends on the type of organic product being produced:
- 3 years for orchards of perennial soft, top and vine fruits,
- 12 months for pig and poultry grazing,
- 2 years for land ruminant grazing annual crops.
The conversion period can be a difficult period for organic farms. This is because organic methods often result in lower yields whilst at the same time food produced during the conversion period cannot command the same premium price. For this reason, the European Union and the EU countries offer various support measures to help organic producers to get started.
All plants that are grown during the conversion period must come from organic seeds.
Financial support for organic farmers
EU financial support can be for both conversion to organic farming and maintaining organic status. This is in recognition of the role that organic farming has in the various rural development priorities and the potential societal benefits that can come from organic production methods.
EU countries can allocate support in different ways. This is so that they can respond to the specific challenges that their organic farmers may face.
Research, best practice and advice
The EU does not only help farmers financially, organic farmers can also benefit from advice on best practice or on how to adopt new and innovative solutions. This can improve efficiency and therefore boost profit margins.
The agricultural European innovation partnership (EIP-AGRI) works to foster competitive and sustainable farming and forestry that 'achieves more and better from less'.
The EU also helps farmers to set up producer organisations that help protect against unfair trading practices and provide support during market fluctuations.
Organic farming and the CAP
Organic farmers also can apply for other forms of income support under the common agricultural policy (CAP). These include direct payments and payments specifically for young farmers.
Additionally, organic farmers automatically qualify for greening payments. Greening payments were designed to encourage farmers to make environmentally sound decisions and the automatic payment for organic farmers reflects the many benefits that organic farming has for the environment.