Abandoned by customers, natural is in search of public and political assist | EUROtoday

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From our particular correspondent on the Agricultural Show – While a examine, revealed Wednesday, reveals that an increasing number of customers are turning away from natural merchandise, pushing some transformed farmers to think about reusing pesticides and fertilizers, the Minister of Agriculture, Marc Fesneau, introduced a collection of measures to attempt to assist the sector.

“Clearly, today, if I had to start my organic conversion again, I would think twice.” With a neon inexperienced t-shirt on his again, Jean-Michel Aurieres cuts apple quarters on an meeting line to supply some to anybody who extends their hand. He is a part of the small group that manages the “Juliet” natural apple stand on the Salon de l'agriculture, which is being held in Paris till March 3.

At house, in Tarn-et-Garonne, 20 hectares out of the 200 of his farm are meant to develop these fruits in natural farming. Added to this are just a few hectares of natural kiwis, somewhat cereal, and greens. “At the same time, I grow asparagus, peaches, nectarines and apples using conventional farming,” continues the 58-year-old farmer. And an innovation too: “I am also the only one in France to grow red kiwi under photovoltaic greenhouses!”, he explains with out hiding his delight.

For Jean-Michel Aurières, the remark is evident: it’s the mixed impact of this number of cultures and of being a member of the “Juliet” group which permits him to maintain his head above water and to be spared from the disaster affecting the natural sector. While the market has lengthy skilled double-digit progress, it has been hit exhausting by the struggle in Ukraine and inflation. For two years, gross sales have fallen considerably, forcing supermarkets to cut back their choices on the cabinets. Result: natural producers had been compelled to promote much less…or at decrease costs, though manufacturing prices, notably linked to vitality costs, had been hovering.

“With inflation, customers want to pay less. They want organic at the price of conventional. So we give in but, for us, making organic is longer, more expensive and more complex”, testifies the operator. “Fortunately, our apples are simple to provide and being a part of a collective permits us to set our costs. But that's nonetheless lots of vitality and energy for a restricted funding and if I didn't have my different crops, it will be very sophisticated financially,” he laments.

Jean-Michel Arières, organic farmer, lets people taste his apples "Juliet" to visitors to the Agricultural Show, February 29, 2024.
Jean-Michel Aurieres, natural farmer, lets guests style his “Juliet” apples on the Agricultural Show, February 29, 2024. © Cyrielle Cabot, France 24

An enhanced however “insufficient” emergency fund

However, the managers of some 60,000 French natural farms – 10% of the usable agricultural space – gave the impression to be withdrawn from the motion of anger amongst farmers which has been brewing since mid-January in France. On the primary day of the Agricultural Show, February 24, whereas he wandered for greater than ten hours from stand to face, Emmanuel Macron didn’t, at any time, overtly handle the problem of natural farming.

If the bulk shares the calls for of their colleagues on earnings and administrative difficulties, the one measure focused towards them was introduced by Gabriel Attal on January 26 when he allotted an envelope of fifty million euros to emergency help for natural.

The Minister of Agriculture, Marc Fesneau, promised them an extension on Wednesday February 28: “The Prime Minister had asked [à la fin de janvier] the basics of a 50 million euro fund and we will [le] increase to the tune of 90 million euros,” he announced from the Agricultural Show, after insisting: “Organic farming is a subject that is close to our hearts.”

A “positive” signal, but “largely insufficient”, reacts Philippe Camburet, organic cereal grower in Yonne and president of the National Federation of Organic Agriculture (Fnab). “In 2023, the government released an envelope of 104 million euros and this made it possible to help only 4,300 farms,” he explains. “This bottom-line scraping will not be enough when 80% of the 60,000 organic farms are affected and 20% to 30% must be supported.”

Marc Fesneau also presented the Ambition organic 2027 plan, intended to support the development of organic agriculture in France. With one objective: to achieve 18% of organic surface area by 2027, compared to 10.7% in 2022. To achieve this, the plan launches several avenues: stimulating demand for organic in collective catering and restaurants, ” promote” compliance with the objectives of the Egalim law – since 2022, this provides for the ordering of 20% organic products in canteens – to facilitate organic installations or to strengthen communication with consumers.

Give the “bioreflex”

Measures which seem all the more important in view of the figures published by the Organic Agency. “In 2022, the share of organic products in the French basket has been reduced from 6.4% to 6%. This puts us at the level of the United States, the country of junk food,” laments its director, Laure Verdeau. .

According to the barometer on the consumption and perception of French products published on Wednesday, 54% of French people surveyed say they eat organic once a month – far from the 76% reached in 2021. And those who eat it once a week have gone from 52 % to 30%.

“Several reasons explain this fall: information fatigue, distrust of labels but also the distorted image still often attached to organic products,” explains Laure Verdeau. “Many see natural merchandise as costly merchandise that aren’t accessible to them, even when paradoxically inflation has affected this sector much less. And we frequently think about uncooked merchandise, which have to be cooked. However, persons are asking for straightforward merchandise to eat,” she explains.

Health and environmental considerations, till now the principle motivation for natural consumption, are additionally taking over much less significance within the minds of the French folks surveyed, who then again place extra worth on the pleasure of meals, in keeping with this barometer.

Faced with this remark, Laure Verdeau and the Organic Agency wish to go on the offensive. In the approaching months, a “biobus” will tour France to boost consciousness among the many inhabitants through a communication marketing campaign referred to as “bioreflex”. “When we inform the population about organic, they consume it,” insists the director.

“But at the same time, we will not forget to look for all the places that are not home and where we can eat organic: canteens, hospitals, public places but also restaurants,” she insists. . “Today, only 1% of products purchased by commercial catering are organic. If this percentage increased, it would be a real breath of fresh air.”

The specter of deconversion

While the advantages of natural farming for well being, the setting, water high quality, biodiversity and even animal welfare have been demonstrated by numerous scientific research, all of the stakeholders interviewed by France 24 wish to present optimism and guarantee that the present disaster is “cyclical” and never definitive.

“Proof of this is that many young farmers who are setting up want to do it organically,” says Philippe Laymet, natural farmer and president of Interbio Nouvelle-Aquitaine, a regional affiliation bringing collectively gamers within the sector. “But we need real help to enable them to set up and, above all, maintain their activity,” he insists.

On the opposite hand, some natural farmers right this moment want to throw within the towel. The pig sector thus skilled extra farm shutdowns than installations in 2022, in keeping with Agence Bio. In whole, 3,380 farmers within the sector ended their exercise in comparison with 5,245 installations. About half of those interruptions can be deconversions – the abandonment of natural – to return to standard. The relaxation primarily considerations retirements.

“But these operators do not make this choice out of disenchantment with organic,” insists Philippe Laymet, himself an natural winegrower in Corrèze. “It’s a demand crisis. If consumption starts to rise again, many customers will convert. We simply need real help to get through this period.”