Between 2010-17 there was a dramatic increase in the amount of EU agricultural land dedicated to organic farming whilst imports also fulfil an important role, notes the market briefs on organic farming in the EU and on organic imports. The total amount of EU farmland devoted to organic product stood at 7%, representing a 70% rise from 2009. This reflects the size of the EU market, with almost €34.3 billion in retail sales of organic products in 2017. This growing domestic consumption is complimented by a robust import sector, with demand for organic tropical fruits and nuts proving particularly significant.
A driving force for this growth has been the relative high price premium that can be obtained by organic goods, with organic products being marketed up to 150% higher than the price of comparable conventionally produced goods.
Despite this, the yield on most organic farms is smaller than its conventional counterparts, with yields of only 40% to 85% for non-organic farms. These yield differences are not consistent, with sectors such as organic milk, producing volumes that are more in line with the non-organic average. Significantly, efficient organic farming practices had a significant impact on the yield obtained; suggesting that research and innovation will have a significant impact on the organics sector.
Overall, there were almost 250,000 organic farms in the EU in 2016 and the total number of organic farms has been on the rise.
On average there had been 5,400 new entrants to the organic sector between 2013 and 2017, compared with 4,500 previously organic operators returning to conventional farming, or retiring. The primary catalysts for this return to non-organic farming include production constraints, costs and/or bad crop years.
Imports to the EU of organic food totalled 3.4 million tonnes in 2018, with the biggest supplier being China with more than 415,000 tonnes of producing supplied to the European market, making up 12.7% of the total market. However, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Ukraine and Turkey all had significant market shares. The primary goods imported were tropical fruit and nuts, cereals and oil cakes.
Imports make up an important part of the market for organic goods and increase consumer choice. This is partially because they often provide goods for which EU terrain is not suitable or where there is a temporary gap in the market. The report noted that these gaps could be harder to fill for organic production as the 3-year conversion period increases the time lag between increased demand and EU suppliers being able to increase their production.
The briefs note that the market for organics is not yet mature and that further growth can be expected. In order to fulfil the anticipated increase in demand, growth is expected in both domestic production and the volume of imports entering the European market.
Amended on 12 March 2019.
7 March 2019