|By Sybille de La Hamaide2
hours, 30 minutes ago
France's organic wheat harvest, which makes up less
than one percent of the country's total wheat crop,
will be plentiful this year but the sector is threatened
by stagnant demand, producers said on Wednesday.
"First cuttings show the 2005 organic soft wheat
crop will be satisfactory in volume and quality,"
Intercereales said in a statement.
The umbrella group of grain producers and consumers
did not give a precise estimate for the crop but the
president of its organic division, Salvador Ferret,
said the total would be above the average of 60,000
tonnes a year.
Organic agriculture has taken off over the past decade
in Europe after food and farming crises over mad cow
disease, dioxin, foot-and-mouth and swine fever, and
amid continued concerns over genetically modified crops
But interest in France lags behind that in other European
countries. And organic wheat, used to make baguettes,
biscuits and sliced bread, is now under threat in the
country due to a drop in prices that started several
seasons ago, Ferret said.
"Between 1997 and 2002, there was a real craze
for organic products, which led to a huge demand to
the point where production could not keep up,"
"We worked hard and organic grain production increased
strongly. But at the same time demand has stagnated
as public interest and consumption remained stable.
So we are now in a situation of over-production,"
French organic wheat prices are close to the level
where it would be more profitable for producers to go
back to growing conventional wheat, putting the whole
sector at risk.
"The real worry is to see farmers...go back to
conventional farming," Ferret said.
To reverse the drop in prices, organic producers have
tried to boost demand and attract industrial bread and
biscuit makers by increasing grain quality.
"Organic wheat was first aimed at traditional
bread makers. But we've raised the quality so that it
meets industrial requirements," Ferret said. "All
we have to do now is to convince them, as well as consumers,
to use more of it."
France said earlier this year it wanted to boost its
organic sector, which recorded a two percent drop in
cultivated area and a three percent fall in the number
of farms last year.
Under a 20-year blueprint for agriculture, France plans
to grant a tax rebate to farmers who earned 40 percent
of their income from organic farming.