France's organic farming sector may experience slower growth in coming years as the number of traditional farmers converting to organic production drops off, a French agency said on Thursday.
The newly created Agence Bio said the area in France devoted to producing food organically - or without the use of synthetic chemicals - rose in 2001 to 420,000 hectares, up from 370,000 in 2000.
However, the area in France under conversion to organic production dropped 2.2 per cent to 136,000 hectares - suggesting the overall growth rate is slowing.
"Organic conversions were somewhat more difficult this year," Benoit Cansi, president of Agence Bio, said during a presentation at France's annual farm show.
The agency said the first generation of organic farming converts had quickly embraced the idea of producing without synthetic chemicals, but the switch was less easy for farmers with more entrenched attitudes about agriculture.
Although 1,140 new organic farms were created in France in 2001, for a total 10,400 farms, the agency said this was below its goal of between 2,000 and 2,500 new farms each year.
The latest figures show that 1.5 per cent of France's total farmland is being used to produce food organically - a relatively small percentage compared with other EU members like Germany, Italy or the Nordic countries, the agency said.
"In absolute value we are among the EU leaders but it's true that in percentage of total farmland we are running behind," Cansi said.
Italy, which has the largest organically farmed area in the EU, devoted almost eight per cent of its farmland to organic food, and hopes to reach 20 percent by 2005, the agency said.
Agence Bio said it hoped France's organically farmed area would reach three per cent of total farmland by 2007.
Canis said the key to France's organic future could be the meat sector, which had been the driving force in 2001.
As French consumers panicked over mad cow disease and other food safety issues in 2001, organic cattle and sheep production grew 30 and 20 per cent respectively.
The agency stressed that all figures for 2001 were rough estimates and that it hoped to give more accurate figures later this spring.