Agricultural area under organic farming in Europe

The European Green Deal sets the target that, by 2030, 25% of the EU’s agricultural area should be under organic farming. The share of the EU’s agricultural land under organic farming is increasing, rising from 5.8% in 2012 to 9.1% in 2020. This is encouraging, but the rate of converting land would need to be four times higher than this to reach the 25% target by 2030. The share is projected to reach 15% by 2031 and extra support under the European Green Deal and the new common agricultural policy (CAP) could accelerate progress. However, reaching the target will still be challenging.

Published: ‒ 25min read

Organic farming refers to the food production method that aims to use natural substances and processes. It avoids or markedly reduces the use of synthetic chemicals, applies high standards of animal welfare and excludes the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This has benefits for biodiversity, soil health and water quality.

European Green Deal initiatives, particularly the EU biodiversity strategy for 2030 and the farm to fork strategy, set the target that at least 25% of the EU’s utilised agricultural area (UAA) should be under organic farming by 2030. According to the EU definition, the ‘total organic area’ includes both the ‘certified organic farming area’ and the ‘area under conversion to organic farming’, with farms undergoing a 2- to 3-year conversion process before being certified as organic.

The UAA under organic farming in the EU has increased since 2012. In 2020, it covered over 14.7 million hectares, representing 9.1% of the EU’s UAA.

The conversion rate between 2012 and 2020 was over 650,000 hectares per year, resulting in more than a 55% increase in the share of the UAA being under organic farming in the EU. Meeting the 25% target by 2030 would require increasing the organic farming area by almost three times compared with 2020. This will require a conversion rate four times higher than the current one (>2.5 million hectares per year).

The share of the UAA under organic farming has been projected to reach 15% by 2031, assuming growing demand for organic production. This projection does not, however, account for additional support resulting from the implementation of the European Green Deal and the common agricultural policy (CAP) 2023-2027. This extra support could accelerate the increasing trend. The European Green Deal and the new CAP (2023-2027) are introducing measures to increase the support for organic farming by addressing different aspects and actors along the food value chain. Some of the actions under the European Green Deal are still under development and the new CAP began only in January 2023, so their potential impact is nit yet certain. It is clear however that reaching the 25% target will be challenging given the large distance to the target, the need for increasing demand for organic products and current political and economic uncertainties.

In 2020, Austria, Estonia and Sweden had more than 20% of their UAA under organic farming, the highest shares of all EU Member States. By contrast, in eight Member States less than 5% of their UAA were under organic farming, the lowest shares being in Bulgaria, Ireland and Malta. In the EEA member and cooperating countries for which data are available, less than 5% of their UAA were under organic farming, except Switzerland (which used 17%).

The shares of UAA under organic farming increased between 2012 and 2020 in all EU Member States, except Poland, where the share decreased. The UAA shares under organic farming more than doubled in Bulgaria, Croatia, France and Hungary, although these Member States’ shares still remain below the EU-27 mean value (of 9.1%).

Data on the shares of UAA under organic farming in non-EU EEA member countries and in cooperating countries in 2012 are available for only two countries: Norway, where the share decreased between 2012 and 2020, and Switzerland, where it increased.

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