Jan Plagge: “20 Percent Organic Farming is Our Minimum Target

In an interview, Bioland President Jan Plagge reports on the positive effects and challenges of the Corona pandemic, strategies with regard to climate change – especially the increasing drought – and the initiative for the breeding of dual-purpose chickens.

The corona crisis further boosts the market share of organic products. What do you think is the reason for this?

The crisis makes it clear to all of us how valuable functioning agriculture in the region with sustainable value chains is. That’s why demand is rising significantly in all sales channels, especially among our direct marketers. Especially now, customers appreciate the security of a direct connection to the producers. In addition, more people are cooking for themselves again. Consumers want to do something good for themselves and are turning to high-quality, local products.

Can you put a figure on the additional turnover for Bioland?

Bioland does not know the detailed turnover development of its member operations and market partners. What we do notice is that demand is increasing in all areas and, for example, the direct marketers and producers of dry products are recording a good double-digit percentage increase in demand in some areas.

When everyday life starts to focus on staying healthy again, rather than being the sole focus, the organic boom may well subside. Have you already developed a strategy to retain consumers?

The past has shown that food scandals have only led to a short-term change in buying behaviour. However, as the Corona crisis is also perceived by many people as a systemic crisis of misguided developments in capital-driven globalisation, there is now the chance of a more lasting effect. We believe that the conscious purchase of regional organic products and the interest in domestic producers will continue for some even beyond the crisis. For those who were not already organic customers, the crisis has in some cases prompted them to take the first step towards organic. So the path has now been taken by many. Especially in farm shops and delivery services, which have experienced the greatest boom in recent weeks, there is now the chance to develop firm ties between producers and consumers from many new initial contacts, which will remain in place beyond the acute crisis.

What are currently the biggest challenges for organic farmers, producers and traders? Especially with regard to the pandemic situation but also in general?

With regard to the pandemic, the great demand and the associated requirements play a major role for our farms. With increases in demand of up to 70 percent, some are reaching their limits. Organic crates, for example, are in greater demand than ever and there are now waiting lists in many places.

Since our members produce for the domestic market, they are not exposed to the dependencies of the international market. Their regional value creation chains are now paying off in particular. On the other hand, climate change and the renewed drought are causing us great concern.

What solutions are there for heat and drought?

The drought for the third year in a row reminds us that we must not let up for a moment in solving the climate crisis. Even though organic farming is somewhat better placed to deal with the effects of the climate crisis because of the sustainably managed soils, in particular consistent humus production, these affect us just as much. We have only delayed the effect a little, as the water reservoirs in the soil last longer. If this year becomes the third year of drought in a row, it would have serious consequences for the entire agricultural sector. From massive reductions in livestock numbers to farm work. To adapt, we need completely new cultivation systems, which are already being developed.

In order to make rapid progress, the political course must finally be set in the right direction. The New Green Deal offers opportunities for this, and the farm-to-fork strategy can lay the foundations for shaping the new common European agricultural policy. In this way we can create a market for these services of general interest and preserve our livelihoods. The measures of organic farming are active climate protection. These must now be strengthened.

What is your position on the new fertiliser ordinance?

We think that the objective of the amendment of the Fertilizer Ordinance for more protection of drinking water is good and right. At the same time, we are by no means satisfied with some of the requirements that also apply to organic farms. Organic farms are part of the solution and not the cause of high nitrate levels in groundwater. This has been proven many times scientifically and by the water industry. Their use must urgently be recognised in the fertiliser ordinance and not be punished by imposing burdens on solid manure farms, for example.

Are there new trends in animal husbandry?

Sex determination in the egg is an important issue. Bioland rejects the current procedures for early detection. When chick killing is banned from 2022 onwards, alternatives will have to be found. The dual-use chicken as well as the breeding of the brother cocks are the solution here.

Consumers must not now be deceived by the large retail chains that use InOvo. What at first sight sounds like animal welfare is in reality a chick killing with a different name. All currently available selection procedures in the egg intervene at a time when the chicks’ sensation of pain is already developed. Marketing with the description ‘without chick killing’ is therefore highly misleading. Egg consumption without chick killing is only possible with cock rearing. Together with demeter, we and the ÖTZ have been working on the breeding of dual-purpose chickens since 2015. This means that the female animals lay enough eggs and the male animals lay enough meat so that both are suitable for marketing.

What is your vision for the future of Bioland and the organic sector as a whole?

Our claim is to be the driving force for the agriculture of the future. This means that we will continue to support the further expansion of organic farming.  To this end, we continue to work on the conversion of all players involved in the value chain. In addition to farmers and traders, these include processors, the catering trade, canteen kitchens and consumers. 20 percent organic farming is the minimum target we want to achieve by 2030. Our vision for the future is much higher, because our goal is ecologically and socially sustainable agriculture for all – only in this way can we preserve our livelihoods for future generations.