Organic seeds in Europe – is there potential?

date published 08.11.2018

In Austria, organic farming has played an important role for many years now. Austria’s topography, geography, the structure of its agricultural sector as well as political will have promoted its development early on.

But what is the situation like abroad?

What are our EU neighbours and partners doing? Does it make sense to market organic seeds internationally? Austria is the European Champion!

…. not in football however, but regarding the proportion of organically cultivated surface compared to conventional farming surfaces. With a percentage of almost 22% organically cultivated surface per total, Austria is number One in the EU ranking.

With 18.9 % organic surface, Estonia is second, followed closely by Sweden (18.0 %) and Italy (14.5 %). On average, the share of organically cultivated surface in the EU countries was 6.7 % in 2017 (Source: Eurostat, Statistisches Bundes­amt (Destatistis) 2017).

In total, 12.1 million hectares in Europe are organically cultivated surfaces. The largest share (> 2 million hectares) is located in Spain, followed by Italy (1.8 million hectares), France (1.54 million hectares) and Germany (1.25 million hectares). In the Southern countries, most of those surfaces are dedicated to the cultivation of olives, fruits and vegetables, whereas in the Northern countries, pastures and meadows make up for the largest parts.

In Austria, about 570,000 hectares are currently cultivated organically, 62.5 % are grassland, 36 % fields and 1.5 % permanent crops.

 

Which are the most important markets for SAATBAU LINZ?

The structure of the agricultural sector in Germany is quite similar to the Austrian structure, especially in the South of Germany. Bavaria, Hesse, Baden-Württemberg and Saarland account for 43 % or the total organically cultivated surfaces in Germany. They also exhibit the highest density of organic farms in Germany. With 1.25 million hectares of organically cultivated surfaces, Germany is a very promising market.

This development has become apparent in recent years; at tradeshows and exhibitions, in discussions with our partners and farmers but also in terms of an increasing demand in direct requests received at our company

In France, the market for organic seeds has also been developing. Many companies have received an organic certification or are currently in the transition period. The core areas of organic production are located in Central France, in the South and South-West of the country.

In recent years, the demand from Central and South-East Europe has also been on the increase. Many farmers or cooperatives in Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia etc., which do international business, are switching to organic cultivation. They are particularly interested in winter cereal varieties, sought after for their high quality and good marketing prices. Soybeans and peas are interesting alternative crops for this region.

 

Which are the products most in demand?

Our focus in organic products is on cereals, soybeans and maize. With these three crops, we have been able to generate a turnover of roughly 6.5 million EUR in Austria and internationally in 2017. Home-bred varieties from Saatzucht Donau as well as the maize breeding station of SAATBAU LINZ in Schönering have made their way into the Austrian and the international organic seed market. Products from Austria enjoy an excellent reputation. In terms of cereals, the demand for wheat and rye is particularly high. In this field, we are already marketing products and will be bringing out further products which cater very well to the demand. The new wheat breeds from Saatzucht Donau (ARMINIUMS, AURELIUS…) in particular, have excellent characteristics for organic cultivation: early maturity combined with good health and perfect quality! Spelt, emmer wheat and einkorn wheat are also much in demand on the organic seed market!

Another extremely important crop are soybeans – especially 000 varieties such as MERLIN, BETTINA and ABELINA.   However, later maturing varieties are also sought after and can be easily marketed.

Early maturing maize in organic quality is also much in demand. Here we have breeds from Schönering. The German market accounts for up to 50,000 units.

And last but not least, the market for organic intercrops and grassland seeds contributing to an improvement in crop rotation or serving as feed is also developing nicely.

 

Will this growth be sustainable*?

A number of expert opinions on the subject allow us to answer this question with a clear YES! Surveys, analyses and our own experience, both professional and personal – underline the relevance of organic production and its economic factor cannot be estimated high enough.

As seed producers and traders, we deliver the raw material for the downstream sectors, the demand and interest in seeds is tangible and developing sustainably.

The obligation to use organic seeds for the cultivation of certain crops (without exemption for untreated seeds) fosters this development. Ever more crops are subsumed under this so-called category 1 crops. In Germany, rye, maize and many grass and clover varieties are already assigned to this category.

*) from an economical point of view

 

Summary

Austrian organic agriculture has played a pioneering role and contributed significantly to the development of the organic sector in the EU. Growing surfaces, increasing turn-over and investment volumes in agriculture as well as a growing demand and interest in organic food from the customer side encourage us to continue in our efforts to market organic seeds also outside of Austria.

The quality of our products (both the performance of our varieties and the technical quality) is the distinguishing feature and criterion for choosing SAATBAU products – both in Austria and internationally.

 

Hansjörg SCHLICHTNER

Head of Sales West/Southeast Europe

SAATBAU LINZ