France has the third largest organic agricultural area in Europe

With 4% of its agricultural land and 1.1 million hectares of organic crops, France has overtaken Germany and has the third largest organic area in Europe, behind Spain and Italy. Despite the crisis and generally higher prices of products from organic farming, French consumers are supporting this growth since the market reached 5 billion euros in 2014, up 10% over the year, said Wednesday February 18 the Bio Agency presenting the state of the bio on the eve of the Salon de l’agriculture.

Its president Etienne Gagneron even considers “possible to climb to the second place in three years to four years past Italy”, which has 1.3 million hectares while Spain relies on 1.6 million of which 600 000 hectares of olive trees, “much easier to convert”. More than 100,000 hectares in France are in conversion – a process that requires two to three years depending on the crop – and therefore not yet accounted for.

DOUBLE PRODUCTION BETWEEN 2007 AND 2012

The organic agricultural area doubled in five years (from 2007 to 2012) and, if growth continues at a slower pace, the number of producers, 26,500, and the area under organic cultivation both increased by 4% at the end of December. At this rate, the Ambition bio plan and its target of 8% of useful organic surfaces in 2017 seems “feasible”, especially in cereals, Judge M. Gagneron. Especially since prices “around 300 to 400 euros per ton for six or seven years remain stable when conventional cereals have lost 100 to 200 euros and are subject to very high volatility.”

In 2014, more than 2,000 producers were newly engaged in organic farming, mainly in vegetable and fruit crops, field crops and beef cattle (milk and meat). Above all, the Hexagon now provides 75% of the products consumed in France: thus 10% of the milk bought in France is organic.

Organic production is, however, unevenly distributed, with more than half of the areas located in the south between Rhône-Alpes, Midi-Pyrénées, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur and Aquitaine, followed by the Pays de la Loire and Brittany.

Organic farming, more productive than we think

Vegetables from organic farming. AFP / JEAN-PIERRE MULLER

Despite its virtues in respect of the environment and the preservation of biodiversity, organic farming is often relegated to the rank of marginal alternative, definitely unable to feed the more than nine billion humans that will be the planet. in 2050, a quarter of which is on the African continent.

It is true that at the end of 2011, it occupied only 37.2 million hectares worldwide, or only 0.9% of the total agricultural area, even though, between 2000 and 2010, its territorial hold was multiplied by 2.4. But his critics blame him for his poor performance, compared to conventional agriculture.

However, an American “meta-study”, published on Tuesday, December 9, in the Proceedings of the Royal Society (the British equivalent of the French Academy of Sciences), somewhat enhances the blazon of this mode of culture that outlaws the chemical inputs, fertilizers, pesticides and other plant protection products. It concludes that the productivity deficit of biological methods compared to intensive or industrial agriculture is less important than previous studies have shown. And, above all, it is possible to reduce this gap.

BEST EFFICIENCY WITH POLYCULTURE

The last major international studies on the subject, conducted one by the Dutchman Tomek de Ponti, the other by the Canadian Verena Seufert, and both published in 2012, converged to indicate that the average yields of crop productions are, in 20% to 25% lower than traditional practices.

The signatories of the new publication, led by Claire Kremen, professor of environmental sciences and co-director of the University of California’s Berkeley Food Institute, say they have screened three times more data than their predecessors. They analyzed 115 studies from 38 countries, covering 52 plant species and covering 35 years.

Result of this panoramic analysis: the difference in productivity between organic and traditional is reduced to 19.2%. In addition, unlike previous work, the authors do not find a difference between developed and developing countries in terms of the respective performance of the two farming methods.

But the main lesson is that the differential is much lower when organic farms use either the associated crops (several plants grown on the same plot) or rotations: it then falls to 9% and 8% respectively. “These promising results,” the authors suggest, “suggest that appropriate investment in agronomic research to improve organic crop management could greatly reduce or even eliminate the gap [with traditional agriculture] for some crops or regions. “

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