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Where to draw the line for the Spanish organic area?

The organic area for Spanish fruit vegetables and exotics is taking flight. Because of international demand, cooperatives and private companies are investing in the organic sector. How far can this growth get?

The Spanish are not all that fond of organic products, but the Spanish organic cultivation is increasing. Because of growing European demand for organic product, companies are either switching completely or just increasing their organic production. According to Eurostat, Spain had nearly two million hectares of organic agriculture and horticulture in 2015, 30 per cent of which was still being switched. This area mostly contains grain production and cattle breeding, but the 21.9 per cent increase compared with the organic area of 2010 indicate a trend. Of the area, over 450,000 hectares is used for the cultivation of grain and vegetables. Approximately 3 per cent, or about 13,500 hectares, is meant for the fresh vegetable market. In 2014, this was still 11,690 hectares, and in 2013 it was only 8,654 hectares. In 2012, the Spanish organic area was larger, about 10,236 hectares. Of the area, about 1,000 hectares is organic greenhouse horticulture in Almería according to Coexphal, and that number has doubled in just a few years. “Until a few years ago, only specialised chains had any interest in this, but now all trade parties ask for organic product,” manager Luis Miguel Fernandez explained during the organic symposium organised earlier this year by Coexphal. 

Murgiverde is one of the companies with a growing organic production. The cooperative has 700 members, who together produce 160,000 kilograms annually. “Organic is growing significantly,” says Ingeborg van Geldermalsen, member of the commercial Murgiverde team. “An increasing number of horticulturalists are switching. We expect an expansion of 25 per cent this year. By now we have an organic area of 400 hectares, of our total surface of 1,500 hectares.”

Producer Vicasol recognises the developments in the organic market as well. The majority of Vicasol’s customers (85%) consists of retailers throughout Europe. “And the largest increase nowadays is taking place in the organic segment,” says Stephan van Marrewijk from Vicasol. “We already have a fairly large organic area, and that is also where the growth will be in coming years. Many horticulturalists are switching now. Demand for organic vegetables is increasing significantly for our customers, and we see it as an enormous opportunity for the future to meet this demand.”

The Dutch cultivation is also familiar with the demand for organic product, but cultivators do not yet like the sound of switching. That is partly due to substrate cultivation, which is standard in the Netherlands. Organic cultivation requires cultivation in the ground, which is often already the case in Spain. That makes the step to organic production smaller. According to Eurostat, about 6,230 hectares were dedicated to the organic cultivation of fresh vegetables in the Netherlands in 2015 (both covered and open air cultivation).

But there is a downside to the increasing areas. Richard Soepenberg of Frunet-Bio thinks organic is increasing too quickly in Spain. He expects the market to reach a saturation point, after which conventional players in particular will quickly return to the usual package.
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