The government flies to the aid of “organic” and releases 60 million euros
We must save the organic sector. Consumption in decline, farmers who throw in the towel, others discouraged from getting started: faced with the “growth crisis” of organic, the Minister of Agriculture announced on Wednesday a “crisis envelope” of 60 million euros accompanied by measures to stimulate demand. As conversions to organic slow down and departures increase, “it would be our collective failure if we lost organic producers,” said Marc Fesneau from a dairy farm in the Oise.
France aims to have 18% of agricultural land organic in 2027 (compared to 10% today), an objective which seems difficult to achieve but which the minister maintained on Wednesday. In the Oise, no farm has converted organic for the past two years. “We have farmers ready to convert but the dairies no longer want to take them”, regrets Sophie Tabary, president of Bio Hauts-de-France and producer in Aisne.
The organic market began to turn around in 2021 after years of double-digit growth that had prompted farmers to embark on this type of agriculture without pesticides or synthetic chemical fertilizers. But consumers, squeezed by inflation (+15% over one year in April for food), are turning away from it in favor of cheaper alternatives.
Marc Fesneau has also pledged that canteens under State responsibility (ministries, prisons or armies) will – finally – put 20% organic on their menu by the end of the year. (or Egalim, 2018) had set for 2022 this objective of a minimum of 20% organic in canteens. But the share of organic is capped at around 6%. “Let’s start by sweeping in front of our own door” by being “exemplary”, declared the minister, calling on local authorities – which finance school canteens in particular – to do the same.
“But state canteens, armies and ministries are already close to the 20% required by the Egalim law. School catering is 13% organic according to us,” Marie-Cécile Rollin told AFP. general manager of the Restau’Co network. “A sector that we never talk about, medico-social, hospitals, nursing homes, homes for the disabled… is at less than 1%! It represents half of the meals in collective catering. If it rose at 5%, it would be 150 million euros of additional organic purchases”, she estimates.
“At this stage, the state’s commitment is symbolic,” reacted to AFP the president of the National Federation of Organic Agriculture (Fnab), Philippe Camburet. “I’m waiting to see if the local authorities follow suit. Today, they say + We pay the gas bills and we will see what will remain +” in the budget. According to him, the 60 million euros, the terms of which will be defined later, are “still far from the mark” to relieve the cash flow of professionals in difficulty.
A first “emergency aid” of 10 million euros, recorded at the end of February at the Agricultural Show, had disappointed. The majority agricultural union FNSEA welcomed in a press release “the revaluation of the envelope”. The minister also mentioned the “responsibility of large retailers” in the drop in consumption of organic products. The shelves are less provided than before in organic gold “the visibility of a product makes its sale”.
He also intends to “speak with large retailers” about the fact that the brands have a “greater margin on organic than on other products”, contributing to increase the price. The ministerial visit was organized with a breeder, Michael Mos, who says he is lucky “to be among the best paid in France in organic farming”. Surplus compared to demand, organic milk is sometimes paid less than standard milk.
Next door, a vegetable producer had to abandon organic “reluctantly”, “for the survival” of the company placed in receivership. Stéphane Dreumont took over from his parents who were organic pioneers (1977). The farm, which grew at a time when supply was short, suddenly found itself with “tons of unsold”. This deconversion “completely screwed us up. We are organic at heart, we were doing organic out of conviction, not out of opportunism”, he testified.
He told the minister he hoped “to get back to our values as soon as possible”.
Challenges (With AFP)