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Organic farming: Germany fell short of its major organic target with a bang

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Organic farming: Germany fell short of its major organic target with a bang

Poldi is the big star among the children. The pot-bellied pig, not to be confused with the soccer player from Cologne, is not particularly agile, but attracts the little ones like a magnet. Especially when he’s eating – which, by the way, happens less often than you might think. After Poldi’s lunch, the children go out into the field. Mothers, fathers or grandparents try to keep up and lend a helping hand when the offspring pull beets, potatoes and other crops out of the ground and stow them in the baskets.

This organic farm on the outskirts of Dortmund has created a second mainstay with weekly courses for children of practically all ages. The concept is convincing, many parent-child couples remain loyal to the farm for years. You don’t have to tell these kids that purple cows only appear on TV. And the additional income helps the farm: trading in organic vegetables and all the other products is not a sure-fire success. When inflation soared to over ten percent, many Germans were less willing to spend more money on organic products than is necessary for so-called conventionally produced food. Sales of organic food fell for the first time – by 3.5 percent.

Organic farming is no longer growing as strongly

Organic farming in Germany is growing. But measured against the goals and expectations, it is growing much too slowly. The organically farmed area increased by 3.7 percent in 2022 compared to the previous year, as can now be read in the industry report of the Federal Association of the Organic Food Industry (BÖLW). But that is firstly less than before and secondly it would have to be much faster to reach 30 percent by 2030 as planned. We are still as far away from organic in terms of breadth as the babe pig is from the typical livestock stable.

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The story of the lofty goals in organic farming began 20 years ago: The then Minister of Agriculture Renate Künast (Greens) had set the target of 20 percent. Even that has not been achieved to date. Germany is at 11.2 percent. If the new 30 percent target is to be reached by 2030, a lot still has to happen in the next seven years or so.

But it doesn’t look like that. This could also lead to trouble with Brussels: The European Union requires its member states that by 2030 agriculture is 25 percent organic. In general, the EU sees itself to a certain extent in the role of addiction fighter in agriculture – except that the legal drugs here are not alcohol and nicotine, but mineral fertilizers and chemical pesticides. Agriculture should make do with half of this by 2030, according to the target.

The new goal: 100 percent organic farming?

In Germany, people continue to set very high goals, and when in doubt, some politicians seem to successfully ignore the status quo. Silvia Bender recently spoke out in favor of 100 percent organic farming as a long-term goal. According to the state secretary in the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, this can become reality “if politicians and the industry remove the hurdles that stand in the way of more organic”.

Cem Özdemir (Greens) also believes that organic will prevail among the majority of the population. “More organic in out-of-home catering, more money for organic research, strong organic value chains, an information campaign about organic – there is hardly a topic that we will not tackle in order to make 30 percent organic farming a reality,” says the Minister of Agriculture. Özdemir also wants to make more funds available for the Federal Organic Farming Program (BÖL) in 2024.

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Why organic farming has such a hard time

Hans-Christoph Behr is an expert at Agrarmarkt Informations-Gesellschaft (AMI) and pours plenty of water into this organic wine. The 30 percent target can only be reached in theory. Organic acreage will continue to grow, but the curve continues to flatten instead of going up. There are many reasons and depending on who you ask, sometimes one or the other is particularly important.

The AMI says that many farmers lack the incentive to switch to organic, which has to do with the cost-benefit ratio: “Recently, the prices of many conventional and organic products have converged, for example milk.” The willingness to pay the consumer is simply not that high anymore. Organic associations complain about the price pressure in the retail trade, which makes life difficult for farmers and hardly allows “fair prices”. The German Farmers’ Association points out that the issue of nutrition can only be solved in a global context.

What each of us can do

But the real power lies with those who eat and feed others. It is obvious that consumers can sometimes decide for themselves more or less whether they buy organic, depending on their cash situation and cooking skills. They would thus set the direction for agriculture, but they are by no means the only ones: employers can also change something. Only two percent of what is on offer in restaurants, canteens and canteens comes from organic farming. Many companies like to talk about sustainability, but do not implement it in their own canteen.

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Protests by employees and works councils are rare, presumably because very few want to pay more. Özdemir plans to prescribe an organic quota of 30 percent, but there is a long way to go. Many students protest at Fridays for Future, but munch currywurst from factory farming in the cafeteria without any objection. And who really asks in the restaurant what is on the plate from sufficiently certified organic cultivation? Psychologists answer: Because we don’t want to know. In the supermarket we get a bad conscience when we reach for cheap meat. But in the canteen crowd, you often simply swim with them.

Incidentally, the The federal government has set the goal of introducing 20 percent organic content in its own canteens by 2025 . Meat should “if possible” come from particularly animal welfare-friendly livestock farming. In kitchen jargon, this lukewarm resolution would probably be called half-baked. Poldi, the pot-bellied pig, would turn up his nose and grunt at such inconsistencies.

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