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Spain: Is organic fruit and veg production growing at the same rate as the demand?

The demand for organic products is on the rise in Europe, and many horticultural producers have based their growth strategies on the cultivation of these products. They want to continue certifying farms in order to satisfy a customer who demands more bio crops, wider product ranges and year-round availability. Thus, some companies, such as Exquisite Fruits or Sigfrido Fruit, are preparing to enter this market.

Organic products are here to stay. They are not a temporary fad. Demand is growing all over the world, but is production increasing at the same rate? There are those who predict that in ten years, all of Europe will consume organic products. For example, Sweden is a pioneer in its commitment to these products and records annual consumption growth rates of over 20%. According to the World Vegetable Map 2018 report, organic products already account for more than 10% of sales in European markets such as Austria, Denmark, Sweden and Switzerland, and there has apparently been a notable advance in the US.

In Europe, Spain is the largest supplier. According to data provided by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAPA) in its Organic Agriculture report 2017, the acreage devoted to ​​organic farming grew by 19% if we count the farms producing fresh vegetables, citrus, fruit, bananas and subtropical crops, potatoes and tubers, strawberries, berries and table grapes. In total, 44,700 extra hectares have been planted. The fact is that more and more companies are betting on this sector by certifying both new and old farms. According to Julia Lernoud, an expert from the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FIBL), "there are about 58 million hectares of organic production areas in the world cultivated by 2.7 million producers. In the EU, the organic acreage stands at 12 million hectares, having increased by 60% over the past decade.

The MAPA is promoting both production and consumption, and for this reason, they presented the document "Strategy for Organic Production 2018-2020", in which they recommend four key measures: contributing to a better structuring of the sector, supporting its growth and consolidation, studying its role in environmental policy and encouraging domestic consumption.

Given the boost experienced, the sector remains alert, and warns against the appearance of bad practices in the handling of this type of crops; hence the need to find a good balance between production and demand. In order to keep good practices under control, a new community regulation was introduced to try harmonizing the existing legislation. "Until now, there was an a la carte legislation that led to different interpretations in different States, and that resulted in unfair competition between the producers," argues Elena Panichi, deputy director of Unit B4 for Organic Products of the European Commission.

Production grows by 12%
While the acreage has grown by 19%, the estimated production has increased by 12%, with some 577,500 tons harvested. According to Adolfo García, director of Camposeven, organic products are difficult to grow and significant losses are recorded. "Fewer kilos are harvested per square meter, so costs are higher," he says. According to the data provided by the MAPA, the volume of fruit, strawberries, grapes and berries has been reduced, while that of potatoes and tubers showed a strong increase. It should be noted that fruits and berries also suffered losses in the conventional sector as a result of unsuitable weather conditions.

The growing demand for organic produce has motivated many companies to focus their growth strategies on the cultivation of these fruits and vegetables. Becoming leaders in the category is the goal for some of them, as is the case of Única Group, which announced the creation of the Gea Fresh integration platform a few months ago. With it, it aims to integrate this activity within its structure, as well as to invite other companies in the sector to participate. Therefore, it wants to become a dynamic agent in the promotion of organic production. At the moment, the group sells some 40,000 tons, which account for 10% of its income. This year, it will continue to grow and invest about 10 M € in new machinery, as well as replace others in other cooperatives in order to help them adapt. Haciendas Bio also announced investments this year. In mid-2018, it launched its ecological park in Mérida, which will be complete within the next three years. The complex has an area of ​​400 hectares and there is a new industrial plant, with 4.0 technologies, a laboratory, a research center and a power station. In 2019, the plan is to invest € 7.5 million to continue improving these facilities, increasing its production and working with new crops, such as cherries, apricots and leafy vegetables. Meanwhile, its Biovivo label has been gaining ground in the retail since its launch in mid-2017. In the last year, sales amounted to 32,200 tons.

Wider product ranges
Anecoop, which created the Solagora company for the sale of organic products, wants to continue promoting them with the launch of new product lines and by increasing its presence in markets where it already has an important penetration with its conventional range. Unexport, for its part, wants to be able to offer the full range of organic products and varieties it sells, and it is doing so under both its EcoUnexport brand and those of its customers. Its goal this year is to continue boosting its sales with the expansion of lines and the development of new markets. Although Europe is the main destination for their organic production, with a strong growth recorded in the Nordic countries, there are other interesting markets, such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan and China. Eurocastell, which makes 10% of its sales in the organic sector (some 9,000 tons in 2018) has added green beans, zucchini and mini cucumbers to its range. This year, it wants its acreage to expand with 120 new hectares and to open a new warehouse exclusively for organic products.

Almería, more bio
In the province of Almeria, the conversion from conventional to organic is a reality. Horticultural companies such as Agroponiente, Coop, Casi, Vicasol or Hortamira are betting on this sort of production. Agroponiente, for its part, plans to continue increasing its production, and may grow by 20% during this campaign. In 2018, it sold 13,000 tons under its Bio Poniente brand, with cucumbers (4,700 tons) topping the ranking, followed by watermelons (3,000 tons) and peppers (3,000 tons). For this year, it expects sustained growth. In the case of Coop, it has almost doubled the area devoted to organic production and already exceeds 100 hectares. Furthermore, some of its partners and collaborators are involved in the conversion process, so the acreage will continue to grow. Some of them are also steering towards biodynamics, a system that goes beyond organic certifications and which is based on a stronger commitment to natural resources. The cooperative, which first introduced organic crops in the 2015-2016 campaign, sold 7,000 tons in 2017-2018, and it expects the acreage to expand by 30% in the 2019-2020 season. Hortamira is also fully involved in a conversion process. The goal is to convert its entire range into organic within five years and, for the time being, this year it expects to reach 30,000 tons, which would account for 50% of its total volume. With this change, the company expects a 10% increase in sales.

The Almeria-based Frutos Los Pisaos and Biosabor, whose core business is organic production, are notably expanding. Biosabor has launched new farms abroad: 100 hectares in Senegal for the cultivation of watermelons, and 50 hectares in the Dominican Republic for mangoes and papayas. Meanwhile, Frutos los Pisaos has seen its income grow tenfold over the last four years. It has also launched new farms and now has about 300 hectares and a production totaling 12,000 tons. In order to increase its production capacity, it expanded its facilities last summer with the construction of a new warehouse.

Organic fruit on the rise
In the tropical sector, Sigfrido Fruit is also giving a boost to its organic range. To this end, it has established the company Tasty Import and the new brand Avoo Roll. Procam Granada also hopes to reach its goal of growing and marketing only organic avocados within the next two years. In 2017, Frunet, another tropical producer that complements its range with vegetables, inaugurated a greenhouse for the organic cultivation of cherry tomatoes on the vine, which just like its other products, will be marketed under the Frunet and Supreme Bio brands.

Another fruit producer, Benihort, has already started growing organic crops and aims to convert its entire range from conventional to organic. Its goal for the next three years is to reach 4,500 tons of citrus fruits and 3,500 tons of vegetables. 

Other companies that are strengthening their organic lines are Gruventa, Grupo Gs, Huercasa, Exquisite Fruits, Campojoyma, Camposeven or Grupo Alimentario Citrus (GAC), among many others. The latter has set up the company EcoCrop with the aim of producing and marketing its own organic horticultural products both domestically and overseas.




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