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Organic farming area in Czech Republic stagnates

by Redaktion (comments: 0)

For the first time since 1995, the size of the organic farming area in the Czech Republic declined last year. After significant growth between 2000 and 2002, the area of organic land has stayed nearly the same for the last three years, but even declined by  8 317 hectares in 2005.  The overall number of organic farms also decreased last year, from 836 in 2004 to 829 at the end of 2005. The proportion of organic land in the total area devoted to agriculture declined from 6.16 % in 2004 to 5.98 % at the end of 2005. Only 48 farms entered the organic system last year, while 55 left.

One positive aspect of last year’s development is the fact that for the first time in four years the area of organic arable land rose (by 1 072 ha or 5.4 %). On the other hand, the area of permanent crops decreased by 350 hectares – at the time of a growing demand for fresh organic produce!

The reason for this development lies in the relative saturation with organic farms in mountain areas  – most of the medium and large size farms have already converted to the organic system, whereas for the small family farms the move is not economically viable. The Czech organic food market is still too small for the arable farms to have an incentive to convert to organics, although the organic area payments rose last year and will grow even more in the 2007-2013 budget period.

Twenty new organic manufacturers were registered in 2005, with the result that there are now 125 in total. The underdeveloped domestic processing industry is one of the weak points in the evolution of the Czech organic food market. There are several reasons for this: the market (estimated by Green marketing to be worth Euros 12 million in 2005) is too small to attract large conventional companies; small- scale manufacturers do not have enough finances for the necessary investments; and the required hygiene standards, which are  much stricter than in the rest of the EU, in fact make the traditional processing and manufacturing methods untenable that could be used directly on farms to add value to raw materials.

The export of organic products grew again in 2005, mainly to neighbouring countries like Austria and Germany, as demand abroad is still strong. Due to the lack of processing facilities in the Czech Republic, a large proportion of organic raw materials, mainly grain, is exported.

On the other hand, there is a steadily rising influx of processed organic food on the Czech market, mainly from Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria and Belgium. Importers are successfully exploiting the expanding consumer demand.  Even everyday organic food like milk, cheese, pasta and non-alcoholic drinks are being imported. This only confirms the fact that the Czech processing industry has not reacted to the rising demand and that most of the market growth is covered by imported goods.

The Czech government's Organic Action Plan set a goal of 10 percent of agricultural land under organic management by 2010. In the light of the latest figures, this goal seems to be unattainable. However, there could be some light at the end of the tunnel: the Czech State Marketing Agency applied recently to the EU for support for a large-scale information and communication campaign to promote organic food consumption. If the EU supports the programme, there will be more than Euros 2 million spent in the next three years on consumer education, which would significantly boost demand for domestic organic food and thus have a positive effect on the renewed growth of the land under organic production. 



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