This year’s Biofach organic trade fair revolved around opportunities for the organic sector, despite concerns about inflation and rising costs. Besides the exhibition, the international event – which was held in Germany in mid-February – featured a large number of interesting presentations. One conclusion is that while the production and consumption of organic vegetables varies considerably around the world, there are also some similarities between markets. Here, three specialists from Rijk Zwaan share their key takeaways from the event.
European Union is stimulating organic
Even though the trade show has a strong international reputation and attracts 36,000 visitors from 135 countries, a large proportion of the exhibitors and visitors actually came from Germany and Austria. Fittingly, Austria tops the organic list in the European Union (EU) with 25% of its agricultural land being farmed organically. David Pape, Account Manager at Rijk Zwaan Germany, spoke to many of his customers from the organic fresh produce chain during Biofach.
“There is no doubt that growers are still struggling with inflation and high costs, but they are optimistic that things are going to change,” he says. “Organic will be one main aspect in future developments. Both in the EU – which is aiming for 25% organic by 2030 – and on a national level, several programmes are being developed to stimulate both production and consumption of organic food. There is money available for projects, such as to develop new harvesting machines. Such machines can offer a solution to growers’ labour problems, so that’s good news.”
More reasons to choose organic in the United States
The organic sector is continuing to develop on other continents too, not least due to increased market demand. Bram Koebrugge, chair of Rijk Zwaan’s Organic Working Group, attended a presentation by Nancy Coulter-Parker from the American networking organisation called Inside Organic. She shared details of the organic market trends in the USA, where the sector already has a strong position. For example, organic food accounts for a 6.3% share of the total market and grew by a further 1.8% in 2022. Within organic food, the fruit and vegetables category is the biggest at 37%.
Her most important message was that demand will remain solid, because there are a growing number of reasons for consumers to choose organic products. Besides the positive benefits of pesticide-free crops for humans, animals and the planet, these include a healthy lifestyle, biodiversity, climate change and supply chain transparency. Koebrugge: “That was an interesting insight. In the context of transparency, Coulter-Parker explained that more tracking & tracing rules and checks are being introduced for this supply chain in the USA. Consumers need to be able to trust that products really have been produced organically.”
Food safety is the driver in Africa
Trust also plays a role in the growth of the organic sector in Africa, where it is currently still a niche market. Heleen Bos, Specialist Marketing Organics at Rijk Zwaan, attended a presentation on the developments in East Africa. “The main driver on the African continent is food safety, according to the speakers from Kenya and Uganda. Consumers don’t trust traditional vegetables because a lot of pesticides are used, so they are switching to organic vegetables because they know they can trust them. I’ve seen that for myself in various African countries.”
The transition to organic production requires a lot of knowledge about pest control, certification and market trends. According to Bos, Rijk Zwaan is investing in sharing that knowledge with local farmers, such as through the PUM programme of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “We play a facilitating role in helping companies to benefit from the knowledge and skills of experienced professionals, not only in Africa but also elsewhere. In a recent webinar, a professional from PUM shared practical tips with one of our customers in Guatemala who is thinking of switching to organic methods.”
Secure the basics and keep on innovating
Rijk Zwaan also stands by its organic customers in Europe in these challenging times, says Account Manager David Pape. “We regularly have meetings with growers where we share our knowledge in choosing varieties and making cultivation decisions that will increase harvest rates and decrease costs. For instance, we discuss how lettuce varieties with a good resistance level can help growers to reduce risks. We work together to secure their basics, but we also offer them inspiration to keep on innovating. That’s how we share a healthy future.”