The area of EU land in organic production rose by 41% between 2015 and 2020, according to new analysis by the European Commission, which shows there were 14.8m hectares of land in organic farming in 2020.
In its Organic farming in the EU – a decade of organic growth report, the Commission said this 14.8m hectares represents 9.1% of available European agricultural land and nearly 20% of the total organic area in the world. This equated to about 3.6% of all EU farms being either organic or partially organic at the end of the last decade.
However, it’s worth noting that these figures come before the impact of greater organic ambition in many member states’ CAP strategic plans 2023-2027.
In the EU, permanent grassland makes up the largest component of organically farmed land at 42%, followed by green fodder (17%), cereals (16%) and permanent crops, such as fruit, olives and vineyards (11%).
The countries with the largest organic area are France, Spain, Italy and Denmark, which between them accounted for 52% of the total organic area in Europe in 2012 and 59% in 2020.
However, the Commission found that EU organic production is still dependent on imports.
The union imports organic products from over 120 countries, many as far afield as India and Australia. Imported organic produce includes primary feed for EU livestock farmed organically, such as organic soya.
Overall, imports of organic products into the EU increased from 2.71m tonnes in 2018 to 2.87m tonnes in 2021 (+6%). In terms of product classes, the principal imports are commodities and other primary products, with a combined share of around 90% of total organic imports in volume terms.
One of the biggest drivers of the increase in imports is organic tropical fruit. From 2018 to 2021, these imports increased by 27% to 900,000t.
Ireland remains bottom of the class in organic production when compared to EU neighbours. It and Malta had less than 1% of their farms organic in 2020.
While improved Government incentives under the Organic Farming Scheme are likely to improve this statistic, Ireland is still someway off the heavy-hitters of Austria (22%), Czech Republic (18%), Estonia (16%), France (11%) and Finland (11%).
Organic farms are larger than conventional farms in the majority of member states, with the largest difference in Lithuania, Portugal and Slovakia (four to seven times larger). However, organic and conventional farms are of similar size in Germany and Ireland.
Ireland is also one of only eight member states that has a higher share of women in organic farming than it does in conventional farming.
Sales of organic produce in Europe almost doubled between 2015 and 2020, according to Commission analysis.
However, recent data from Germany suggests that inflation is reducing demand for organic produce there.
Germany has seen its first drop in organic demand since records began with the market shrinking by 4.1% by the end of October last year, according to the German Farmers’ Association (DBV).