28 July 1999
‘Organic is not just for small farmers’
By Philip Clarke, Europe editor
THE idea that organic farming is the preserve of small and part-time farmers producing foods for niche markets is a myth says a report from the EU statistical body, Eurostat.
The report says organic holdings are double the average size of conventional farms in the UK, while in Portugal they are five times as big and in Italy three times larger.
It also identifies a dramatic increase in the number and area of organic farms in recent years in response to growing demand and the provision of subsidies since 1993.
“From some 6300 units in 1985, the number of organic and in-conversion farms in the EU is estimated to have exceeded 100,000 in 1998,” says the report.
The fastest expansion has been in Greece, Spain, Italy, Austria, Finland and Sweden, which now account for almost 70% of all organic farms.
The northern states have a strong tradition in this area, while the southern countries have latched on to the growing demand for organic fruit and vegetables.
The UKs organic area has grown too, but it has not kept pace with other countries, falling from third to ninth in the EU pecking order.
According to the Soil Association, this is because almost all other member states enjoy maintenance grants, as well as conversion subsidies.
Those payments are not available in the UK where farmers rely only on market premiums, which discourages them from going organic, it claims.
“Denmark, for example, has a national action plan to develop organic farming and target other markets, including the UK,” said the associations Gundula Azeez.
Overall, organic farming remains a minority activity, says the Eurostat report, involving just 2% of EU land and 1% of EU holdings.
Grassland is by far the most important use, covering 55% of the total.