Discover the organic producers in your area! This is the watchword launched by the promoters of this environmentally friendly agriculture, organizers of the event Le Printemps bio, which takes place until June 19 throughout the territory. The opportunity to raise public awareness of what makes the very essence of organic. An appointment canceled twice, Covid-19 pandemic obliges. However, more than ever, the players in this sector need to re-explain their difference, such as the outright cessation of the use of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, while the link seems to have been a little stretched with the consumer. .

In stores, the appetite of the French for products stamped with the white flower on a green background is less voracious. After years of double-digit growth, their consumption came to a sudden halt in 2021. According to figures published on Friday June 10 by Agence Bio, the French spent 12.65 billion euros in 2021 to buy such foods in stores. An amount down 1.34% over one year. By adding the share of organic consumption in canteens and restaurants, the total reaches 13.26 billion euros. “We lost 68 million euros out of 13 billion in 2021, when 5 billion in food purchases disappeared over this same period. It’s not very serious,” puts Laure Verdeau, director of Agence Bio, into perspective, who is surprised to have “heard voices announcing the end of organic farming”. “It’s surreal. »

It is true that the figures available until then were those of mass distribution, where the deceleration was the most brutal. “Organic food products ended the year 2021 with a decline in value in supermarkets of 3.6% compared to 2020, while all food products ended at −0.4%. The weight of organic within consumer products has fallen from 5.7% of turnover in 2020 to 5.5% in 2021″, estimates Emily Mayer, of the IRI research institute, which scrutinizes the purchases by French people in stores.

It specifies that the harbingers of a slowdown in this market, which had been very dynamic until then, were perceptible from 2019. consumption benchmarks. The split finally came to light in April 2021, with a shift into negative territory.

To explain this change in trend, she highlights the halt to the extension of the assortment of organic products on the shelves. A massive deployment linked to the conversion of agri-food companies, each declining its brands with the organic label, lured by a lucrative market. After the effervescence, some groups become more selective and the number of references no longer increases, or even decreases. Agence Bio estimates this decline at 5% between January 2021 and January 2022.

Another disturbing element, manufacturers and large retailers have chosen to highlight other labels, such as high environmental value (HVE), pesticide residue-free, nitrite-free or the concept of local products to attract customers, less restrictive than organic, but benefiting from strong promotional support.

” A vicious circle “

In the specialized distribution networks, the drop in turnover, again unprecedented, is however less pronounced, and amounts to − 1.8%, according to Agence Bio. The good surprise comes from tradesmen-craftsmen and direct sales, where the activity continues to progress, with respective evolutions of 7% and 8%. “Organic food distribution is more fragmented. Mass distribution weighs 50%, specialized networks 27% and the rest is divided between tradesmen-craftsmen and direct sales, ”says Ms. Verdeau.

However, in the large retail chains, the trend is not for recovery. “The year 2022 is off to a rough start, and the subject of organic is not going to improve. Organic food sales are down 7.4% in the first four months of the year compared to the same period in 2021, when all consumer food products are at −1, 7% in supermarkets,” says Ms. Mayer.

To this already bleak picture is added the inflationary touch. An essential point has recently entered into consumer thinking. According to the CSA research institute, which surveys the French every month, purchasing power has become a major concern, ahead of health and the environment since February. As rising prices rage on supermarket shelves, everyone is wondering about household budget choices. They will not spare the consumer’s plate and could penalize organic. “The consumption of organic products is at half mast. It’s related to the wallet. In a context of inflation, real or perceived, people do not sacrifice vacations, leisure. They play on food,” notes Benoît Drouin, organic poultry farmer from Loué in Rouez-en-Champagne (Sarthe).

“Psychosis sets in on purchasing power. However, French organic agriculture depends only on the French market. There is a tendency to over-interpret signs of inflation. It’s a vicious circle, everything increases and anxiety rises. This context penalizes us with our reputation for producing expensive food ”, analyzes for his part Philippe Camburet, organic cereal farmer in Yonne and president of the National Federation of Organic Agriculture.

And yet, as Mr. Camburet points out, inflation is especially high on conventional agricultural products and less on organic, resulting in a narrowing price gap: “For cereals, the price gap paid to the producer is only 10%, compared to 35% to 40% before the surge in world prices. “Label Rouge poultry costs 25% to 30% more, it is 7 euros per kilo, compared to 9 euros per kilo for organic poultry,” says Mr. Drouin, who adds that, “for eggs, it’s is a bit different.” “The organic egg is a loss leader for large retailers, and its price is often comparable to that of the Label Rouge. »

Lack of state support

This slightest difference acts as a shock absorber for the dairy sector, one of the most shaken by the slack in the organic market. “At the moment, the organic milk market is not improving. We started to feel tensions at the end of 2020. But it is especially for a year that consumption is no longer at the level of production. Especially since the collection of organic milk has continued to progress. What we did not see coming was that the growth in purchases fell from 15% to 0% in two years, ”says Ludovic Billard, breeder in Côtes-d’Armor and president of Biolait.

This historic cooperative, which collects organic milk from 1,400 farms across the country, had no choice but to downgrade organic milk and sell it as conventional. In 2020, 10% of volumes were affected, a rate that rose to 20% in 2021, but the loss was the same because the price of conventional milk has, in the meantime, been revalued. As a result, the price paid to the organic breeder has dropped. “It was on average 470 euros per ton before 2020 and has risen to 450 euros per ton”, specifies Mr. Billard. The other major players in this market such as Lactalis, Sodiaal or Agrial have done the same and have stopped new farmers converting to organic.

In the organic egg and poultry sector, which was also hit by an imbalance between supply and demand, estimated between 10% and 15%, another event changed the game: influenza avian. This unprecedented health crisis for the poultry sector not only affected ducks in the South-West, but also chickens in Vendée and Pays de la Loire. Without distinction of labels. “With the transition to moderate risk of avian flu throughout the territory, we will be able to put animals back in place. We must take into account this deconsumption of organic. We know very well that valuation depends on controlling volumes,” explains Benoît Drouin.

Faced with the difficulties encountered by organic farmers caught on the wrong foot by the sudden halt in growth, most are wondering about the lack of state support. “There is no political will to develop organic farming. As soon as there is a market crisis in an agricultural sector, the aid is there. We were entitled to 400,000 euros, while the others receive tens of millions. It’s a bit revolting, protests Stéphanie Pageot, a dairy farmer. Since the mandate of Emmanuel Macron, arbitrations are bad for organic. One has the impression that the ultra-productivism lobby is taking over. This intensified further with the war in Ukraine. »

She cites statements by Erik Fyrwald, the managing director of agrochemist Syngenta, published in the Swiss newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung am Sontag on May 8, calling for a halt to organic farming amid the risk of a food crisis. However, according to Laure Verdeau, director of Agence Bio, “the war in Ukraine makes the question of sovereignty in synthetic fertilizers worrying. The 13% of farmers who are organic are not exposed to soaring prices because they do not use it. Organic therefore has its place among food resilience solutions”.

Conversion momentum still strong

“We must not discourage young people from settling in organic farming, when the renewal of generations is a key subject in agriculture. Nor encourage farmers to deconvert,” she adds. In 2021, the conversion dynamic was still strong, with an increase in the number of organic farms in France by 10%, to 58,413. This represents 13.4% of all farms. The deconversion rate has changed very little, going from 4.02% to 4.17% in one year. In terms of surface area, the increase was 9% and the milestone of 10% of useful organic agricultural surface area was crossed.

One of the major challenges today is to ensure the financing of organic farming in the next common agricultural policy (CAP), for the years 2023-2027. France has drawn up its national strategic plan (PSN), a country-wide implementation of the CAP, and submitted it to Brussels. In its response, the Commission questioned France’s ambitions in terms of organic farming. She believes that the French government’s decision to remove maintenance aid, which took over from conversion aid, “causes a loss of earnings for farmers, as subscribing to the ecoregime is much less profitable”, and it considers “that this funding stop presents a risk of deconversion from 2023”.

Brussels has thus asked France, which had chosen to put organic and HVE certification at the same level of “green” remuneration, to review its copy. In addition, it considers that the financial resources committed to the PSN will not make it possible to achieve the objective of 18% of usable agricultural area in organic farming by 2027 that the country has set itself.

The other major subject is the revitalization of consumption to regain a balance with production. Agence Bio has just launched a collective communication campaign, co-financed by the State and the inter-professional organizations, endowed with one million euros. “We would need five to ten times the budget to communicate regularly,” said Ms. Verdeau. Biolait has chosen to sign the products made with the milk collected by it with a logo “Il lait là”, so that its approach is better identified by consumers.

The challenge is also to increase the share of organic products in canteens and collective catering. In the EGalim law2, adopted in 2021, the threshold of 20% of food without phytosanitary products was set. Organic farmers would like the law to be applied to take advantage of these precious opportunities. And, who knows, reconnect with growth…

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