Gov't criticised for inaction on organic farms

Gov't criticised for inaction on organic farms

July 31, 2001 Het Financieele Dagblad by Cormac Mac Ruairi

AMSTERDAM - The growth in Dutch organic farming has been hampered by a lack of government direction, the umbrella organisation for Dutch organic groups said yesterday.

Platform Biologica also claimed that the 20% increase in the number of hectares used for organic farming, recorded by the CBS in 1999-2000, had slowed to 14% this year.

The 1999-2000 increase was largely due to a switch to organic methods by hard-hit cattle farmers trying to escape the damage to their market caused by increased competition and various health scares, including mad cow disease.

Grazing for cattle, sheep and goats accounted for 60% of the land being used for organic farming. There was also a 20% increase in organic arable production in the Netherlands, the CBS said.

Flevoland maintained its position as the province with the highest number of organic enterprises.

Biologica director Bert Van Ruiterbeek said that despite the slowdown this year, he was still optimistic that the government target of increasing organic farming to 10% of total agricultural land by 2010 could be reached.

Currently, organic farming accounts for just 1.3% of the total agricultural land use in the Netherlands.

'It is a question of psychology. The Netherlands is rightly proud of its impressive record for intensive farming. But farmers are now waiting for a clear sign that policy-makers support the organic sector,' Van Ruiterbeek said.

'Already about 10% of consumers have a preference for organic products so the opportunities are there. But there is no pro-active approach from the ministry and industry institutions,' he said.

By contrast, Denmark, Sweden, France and Germany were taking the lead in developing a common European strategy for organic farming Van Ruiterbeek said.

He added that a conversion subsidy, which is due to be phased out in the Netherlands, was essential. This was because farmers could not sell their products as organic - and command premium prices - for two years after making the switch.

Agricultural ministry spokesman Gerard Westerhof said that it was not clear how many farmers wanted to make switch as there had been a low take up of the subsidy to date.

However, Geert Pinxterhuis, a spokesman for farmers organisation LTO Netherlands, said abolishing the subsidy would be a further blow to farmer confidence.

He said there were clear signs in Austria, where organic farming accounted for 10% of the total, that farmers were returning to traditional farming methods, which guaranteed higher prices.

'Organic farming is more costly and a major expansion in the market is required to stimulate the sector,' he said.

Pinxterhuis said that a campaign to stimulate the consumer market for organic products would start before the end of the year.

However the aim of supermarkets body CBL to push organic products to 5% of sales by 2005 was too ambitious, he said. Organic products now account for about 1% of supermarket sales.

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