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Organic agriculture: the government strengthens the emergency fund, increasing from 50 to 90 million euros

The Minister of Agriculture Marc Fesneau indicated on Wednesday at the Salon de l'agriculture that the new emergency fund intended to help organic farmers in difficulty, announced at the end of January, would increase from 50 to 90 million euros.

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Organic agriculture: the government strengthens the emergency fund, increasing from 50 to 90 million euros

The Minister of Agriculture Marc Fesneau indicated on Wednesday at the Salon de l'agriculture that the new emergency fund intended to help organic farmers in difficulty, announced at the end of January, would increase from 50 to 90 million euros. This plan, which must still be approved by the European Commission, is in addition to the 104 million euros in aid paid in 2023 to operators in this sector which has been suffering for two years from sluggish consumption, in a context of strong inflation.

“The Prime Minister had laid (at the end of January) the foundations of a fund of 50 million euros and we are going to increase (it) to the tune of 90 million euros,” announced the Minister of Agriculture Marc Fesneau at the Agricultural centre. The idea is to send farmers “the message that we have noted that the difficulties are continuing,” says his office. They will be able to submit a request as soon as the European green light is given, in March or April, the ministry hopes, for payment by the end of June.

Eligible are farms having at least 85% of their turnover derived from organic and having experienced a drop in their gross operating surplus or turnover of at least 20%. This fund remains far from the emergency plan requested by the National Federation of Organic Farmers (Fnab), “corresponding to the losses suffered by the sectors, namely more than 250 million euros per year for two years”. The organization expressed at the beginning of February its feeling of being one of the big losers in the recent movement of farmers' discontent, between an emergency fund that was largely insufficient in its eyes and numerous announcements, particularly on pesticides, considered as “environmental regressions”.

After sustained growth for several years, sales of organic products, deemed more expensive and competing with labels with less demanding criteria or local products, began to turn around in 2021. Sales in stores fell by 5% in 2022 “It’s a small reversal of trend that we hope will be temporary,” said Jean Verdier, president of the Organic Agency. The latest barometer from this public body responsible for promoting the sector, made public on Wednesday, shows a “brake in the food transition”.

Concerns about health and the environment, until now the main motivation for organic consumption, are taking on less importance in the minds of the 4,000 French people surveyed, who on the other hand attach more value to the pleasure dimension of food. food, according to this barometer. “We feel the fatigue of consumers who no longer turn the packages over to read the label,” estimates Laure Verdeau, the director of the Organic Agency. The next organic promotion campaigns must, according to her, “focus on emotional charge and proximity”.

LIVE - Salon de l'Agriculture: the government wants to strengthen the emergency fund for organic agriculture

The figures are not yet available for 2023 but the sector fears a slight movement of “deconversion” of organic farmers, who now cover 10.7% of the usable agricultural area (UAA) in France, towards conventional. For organic milk, for example, production fell by 4% in 2023 after almost doubling since 2017, Pascal Le Brun, president of Dairy Cooperation, underlined on Monday. A third of organic milk is currently sold through the conventional sector.

For the vice-president of the National Federation of Milk Producers, Samuel Bulot, “running out of organic milk within a few years would really be a failure”. The objective still remains that 18% of agricultural land be dedicated to organic in 2027, says Marc Fesneau's office. But “if we are pragmatic, we can see that 2024 will be a year of consolidation before a plateau and then a new upward start,” we add.

With this in mind, the government also presented on Wednesday an “Organic Ambition 2027” program around three axes: stimulating demand for organic products, consolidating organic sectors, supporting farmers in the face of social and environmental issues. The government wants in particular to push canteens and health establishments to meet the Egalim law obligations of 20% organic procurement, and to encourage restaurants to add organic to their menu.

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