Organic farmers under pressure due to falling demand in the Netherlands and Germany

“The mood is not positive. There are more farmers with more supply, but consumer demand is less,” says Douwe Monsma, organic field farmer and board member of Biohuis, the association of organic farmers.

“Exports abroad, especially Germany, are also under pressure.”

The issue collapsed

The Netherlands has approximately 2,000 organic farms, and that number has increased by almost 600 since 2015. The Netherlands lags behind in Europe. In Austria, for example, 27 percent of farmers farm organically, compared to 4 percent here.

In the period between 2010 and 2015, the turnover of organic food increased between ten and twenty percent annually, research from the University of Wageningen shows. In the following years, organic products became less popular, but sales increased by 5 to 8 percent up to and including 2019.

Since then, the stretch seems to have gone. In 2020, revenue fell by 1 percent to come up a bit in 2021 with a growth of 2 percent to a revenue of 1.63 billion euros. And after the summer, demand fell by 5 percent according to figures from market researcher IRI.

Onions and potatoes

“Sales in the Netherlands are difficult. We have a thrifty consumer, people eat cheap rather than expensive,” says farmer Monsma. “In that respect, we can learn something from abroad, where people are more willing to pay for organic products.”

Dutch agriculture produces a lot for other countries. Over 70 percent is exported; a quarter of this goes to our eastern neighbours. But exports to Germany are under pressure, especially of onions and potatoes.

According to Monsma, we can store onions and potatoes in the Netherlands. “For years we participated in the regular programs in Germany. But not this year for the first time,” he says.

“We are on the reserve list and are only allowed to replenish if necessary. If the German demand does not come, we will have a problem and we will deliver tens of percent less. We will know that in April.”

Short contracts

Organic pig farmers also have to deal with a declining market in the Netherlands and Germany. In the Netherlands, organic pig farmers supply three slaughterhouses that buy the meat and prepare it for further processing for the market: Groene Weg, Westfort and Best Meat, with Groene Weg being the largest.

What is striking is that the purchase contracts are relatively short. Most organic pig farmers close them for three months, half a year or a year. Still, it’s not a problem.

To trust

“There is a lot of trust in the sector. You start from the good. At the kitchen table you have to look each other in the eye, not everything can be legally closed,” says organic pig farmer Jeroen Neimeijer, who is also chairman of, among other things, The Association of Organic Pig Breeders (VBV).

“We supply to Groene Weg and they have never terminated a contract since we started ten years ago. Groene Weg is a reliable party.”

In the Netherlands, the approximately 130 organic pig farmers do not yet have immediate problems due to the declining demand from consumers, says Neimeijer. “What we get for it is linked to the market price. A lower price in the market means a lower price for us,” he explains.

However, the revenue model is under pressure. “The prices of animal feed and energy have increased. So all in all, the market is starting to tighten.”

Germany

In recent years, Germany in particular has been a growth market for Dutch organic pig farmers. “We could sell each piglet twice. Only the market in Germany is filling up now due to more supply from German organic farmers and from Denmark.”

And this has consequences for Dutch organic pig farmers who focus only on Germany, such as Het Conde in Heino, the largest organic pig farm in the Netherlands. The company has been farming organically since 1998 and decided last year to cancel the contract with Groene Weg and to cooperate with the German slaughterhouse Jurgen Schmaing.

Vulnerable

It was also agreed that the pig farmer should help with the German organic pig herd, which is in its infancy with a market share of 0.8 percent.

However, due to the poor market, Schmaing decided a few months ago not to buy pigs from Het Conde despite a contract. It caused quite a bit of unrest for the company and its employees. The problems between Het Conde and the German retailer are said to be resolved now, but this indicates the vulnerability of the sector.

Don’t switch blindly

“Farmers have to farm organically because of the nitrogen problem, but it only works if you stimulate the market as a government,” says Neimeijer. “We must not switch blindly. There are too many organic farmers in Denmark, and they are now dumping their meat on the German market.”

The mismatch between supply and demand can become a problem, says Michaël Wilde from Bionext, the chain organization for organic farming and food.

“The EU Commission wants an average of 25 percent of agriculture to be organic by 2030. Each member state must contribute to this, although the percentage may vary from member state to member state,” he explains. “On December 19, the government will come up with objectives for Dutch agriculture and a plan to increase organic production and consumption.”

The expectation is that work will be done to bring the percentage of Dutch organic farmers up to fifteen percent by 2030. “However, if too many organic products are produced for a market that is not yet ready, organic farming will run into in problems.”

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