Organic farming reaches record level in Germany

Increasing numbers of German farmers are relying on organic production, with 7.5 percent of all arable land now cultivated ecologically. The government has set its sights on an ambitious target of 20 percent.

Rapsfeld und Pappel-Baumreihe in den Vier- und Marschlanden, Hamburg, rape field and tree row at the Vier- and Maschlanden, Hamburg (picture-alliance/blickwinkel/McPHOTO/C. Ohde)

According to new figures from the Federal Office of Agriculture and Food (BLE), the total area of ecologically cultivated land in Germany in 2016 rose 14.9 percent in comparison with the year before to reach 1.25 million hectares (3.09 million acres). That represents 7.5 percent of all arable land.

As a comparison, in 2015, 6.5 percent of all arable land was cultivated ecologically, up from 3.2 percent at the turn of the millennium. The number of organic farms also rose last year by 9.6 percent to 27,132.

Compared to the year 2000, the number of organic farms has more than doubled from 12,740.

"Organic farming has established itself alongside conventional agriculture as an important pillar of the German agriculture and food industry," German Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt told reporters from the Funke media group.

He said, however, that the government was still far from achieving its goal of increasing the share of organic farming to 20 percent of the total agricultural area. No specific date has yet been given for its implementation.

Germany is the largest organic market in Europe, but the scarcity of land available for organic farming could threaten its long-term development.

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Schmidt wants to ensure that the growth potential of organic agriculture is not slowed down. "I am in favor of growing demand for organic products being covered by domestic production," he said.

The aim, he said, was to adopt regulations at the EU level that would provide legal certainty and reliability to small and medium-sized enterprises.

On Saturday, Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks called for a changed approach to agriculture tending to ecological cultivation. She warned of massively decreasing insect populations in Germany over the past 35 years, attributing the reduction partly to the use of pesticides in agriculture.

According to the Bund Ökologische Lebensmittelwirtschaft (BÖLW), an organic market working group, the organic food market in Germany grew to 9 billion euros in 2016, its best year on record. A decade ago, it was worth 2.9 billion euros.

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