Danish pig farmers are keen to switch to organic production in 2015, motivated by higher available prices compared to conventional products, fuelled by growing domestic demand for pig meat, a Danish government body is claiming.
A spokesperson for NaturErhvervstyrelsen, which certifies organic production in Denmark, and is part of the environment and food ministry, said: "The biggest slaughtering company for organic meat – Friland – has said they could sell more meat" if more were produced. Indeed, Friland, part of farmer-owned cooperative Danish Crown, slaughters about 95% of organic pigs produced in Denmark. For the past three to five years, the cooperative has been slaughtering on average 100,000 organic pigs per year, but we "expect it to increase up to 50% by 2018", Friland business support official Henriette Guldager said.
With Danish pig farmers struggling with high debt, worsened by Russia’s food import ban, converting to organic production could help the sector. "With the current prices, an organic pig farmer gets around two euros more per kilo of pork than a conventional farmer," said Joachim Kjeldsen, spokesperson for organic farmers association Organic Denmark (Økologisk Landsforening).
Domestic pork sales increased "from [Danish Krone] DKK60.4 million [US$8.69m] in 2013 to DKK81.9m [US$11.7m] in 2014," Kjeldsen said. And the main export markets for Denmark organic pork are in the EU, with France being the largest buyer. So, the organic pork sector is in safe hands - "more stable and less vulnerable to the mechanisms in the giant global market for conventional pork", he explained.
Organic demand higher than supply
Converting to organic production is not always easy: many conventional pig farmers have large sums of money tied up in production systems for industrial indoor pig production, including stables, booths and "automatic this and that which become useless in an organic system", Kjeldsen stressed. In organic production, sows and piglets live outdoors all year round and the pigs being fed for slaughter live in open stables with access to the outdoors. Therefore, those who convert are "largely newcomers to the industry and those who have bought or rented organic land or producers who have bought another farm and convert them to organic pig farms", he said. Still, there is "a small number of conventional pig farmers which have their pigs in open land – and they can switch to organic relatively easily". And the Danish government is supporting farmers with conversion grants – but during this conversion period - two years depending on products - output cannot be certified as organic, he said.
Meanwhile, Organic Denmark offer farmers free preliminary counselling. "If they decide to convert we help them in all steps in the chain from field to plate," he said.
The organic share of pig farming however is still small in Denmark: in 2014, 8,000 hectares of farmland were submitted to the government in organic certification applications, and new certification applications have risen to 22,000 hectares, by 288 farmers so far in 2015. Total organic farmland in Denmark now amounts to around 200,000 hectares – which is around 10% of the total Danish farmland. But of this, less than half represent pig farming and the bulk is for the dairy sector, Kjeldsen said, adding, "The market is there, [for organic pig meat] and at the moment the demand is higher than the supply, which reflects in the prices."