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How can organic farming reinvent itself?

How can organic farming reinvent itself? This was the topic of a conference at medFEL 2024. After years of growth, the consumption of organically grown products is now stagnant at best. In France, the organic fruit and vegetable market was slightly down in 2023 compared to 2022, with a 9% drop in volume and a 7% drop in value. Overall, the consumption of fruit and vegetables (conventional and organic) was down by 3% in 2023. Inflation, which has led to a downmarket shift, is one of the reasons for this decline, along with the competition from different labels and various weather phenomena," explains Dany La Noë. "Consumers are faced with a dilemma and torn between end-of-month financial concerns and end-of-the-world climate-related concerns." However, according to Julien Seité and Remy Frissant, there has been "a slight upturn this year in specialized organic stores."

What solutions are available to the organic sector? How can it maintain itself and bounce back?

Dany La Noë of Interbio Occitanie, Olivier Masbou, associate journalist at Socopag press agency, Rémy FRISSANT, cofounder of AMANDERA, Julien Seïté of Ferme Ty Coz, Christian Soler, president of the Occitanie organic trade association, and Bérengère Duchesne of Agricommerce.

Should the organic sector evolve further?
Christian Soler, who started out in agroforestry a few years ago, is convinced that organic production needs to evolve in order to produce and add value. "We must try to grow a product with high added value, and the biodiversity in my orchards enables me to produce a quality product." Should we go further than organic? For Remy Frissant, co-founder of Amandera, agroecology and the development of regenerative agriculture "could help us maintain yields that enable us to continue feeding the regions where we are located."

Along the same line, Bérengère Duchesne of Agricommerce, has developed the "Acteurs du Vivant" label, an agroecological label "based on 4 main pillars: collective intelligence - farmers' ability to program change and reinvent themselves -, ecosystem optimization (restoring the integrity of the environment, both soil and air), agroecological management, and technical, economic and energy efficiency."

"We need to communicate on price"
According to Christian Soler, president of Interbio Occitanie, "we need to highlight the importance of organic produce through communication." The BioReflexe campaign, for example, was set up with the Occitanie region and the support of the interprofession. "We need to remind consumers that organic food exists and that it is close to home. While the emergence of other labels (such as HEV or Zero Pesticide Residue) is often blamed for the decline in organic sales, Christian Soler points the finger at the organic sector itself. "Organic farming has to make itself heard, just like other labels do." Dany La Noë confirms the sector's lack of communication and insists on the need to communicate on price. "We used to have big price differentials but that is no longer the case. Organic products are sometimes even cheaper, so we need to tell consumers that organic products are not always 3 times more expensive than conventional ones."

Bringing organic and conventional produce closer in stores
"We have noticed that in stores where organic aisles are far from conventional ones, organic sales have dropped. On the other hand, growth has been observed when organic and conventional products are close together on the shelves," explains Julien Seité, manager of Ferme Ty Coz. Bérengère Duchesne, quality manager at Agricommerce, confirms this observation. "With the decline in organic produce, supermarkets have generally tended to rationalize their in-store offer, and depending on the location, there may indeed be differences in terms of results." Reviewing marketing techniques could also make consumers want to buy organic produce again. "Generally speaking, organic shelves are not particularly well showcased."

"Promoting organic products"
For Rémy Frissant, it is all about adding value. He is "rather disappointed by organic distribution today. It was highly innovative for 20 years, highlighting the nutritional value of products, biodiversity, soil and water protection. But if we are not capable of adding value to the product and offering more than processed products, we will continue to degrade our territories and the situation of our producers."

Need for a more proactive policy?
"We need to move up a gear, because many farmers have made investments in response to societal expectations," explains Dany La Noë. "The French government's emergency aid (90 million euros announced by the ministry [98 million USD]) is insufficient compared to the 300 million euros [325 million USD] in losses per year announced by organic organizations. At the European level, some countries have much more structured policies than France. In Sweden, for example, there is a target of 60% organic produce by 2030. In Italy, the target is 50% in canteens. In Germany, the target is 30% organic produce in the catering sector. In France, for example, the target is 20% organic produce in canteens and 50% in the catering sector."

According to figures announced by Interbio Occitanie, France remains the leader in surface area (all sectors combined) with 2.9 million hectares, followed by Spain, Italy and Germany. Germany remains the leader in terms of the number of organic importers. Organic retail sales fell by 2.8% in the EU. Germany remains the leader with over 15 billion euros [16.3 billion USD], followed by France with 12 billion euros [13 billion USD]. Organic market share is up in Denmark, Austria, Switzerland, Estonia and the Netherlands, and slightly down in France.