A third of French agricultural co-ops have organic certifications

A new report highlights some of the benefits of the co-operative model for organic farming

French apex La Coopération Agricole launched its latest report on the contribution of agricultural co-operatives to organic farming at the Tech&Bio fair in Bourg-lès-Valence.

A total of 18,000 people and 375 exhibitors attended the event, from 21-23 September, which focused on the latest innovations in organic farming.

The report, Gateways between agriculture: dynamics with Organic Agriculture, features 19 testimonials from co-ops involved in organic farming and three interviews with experts in organic farming.

According to the study, there are 750 co-operatives and unions certified as organic. This means that one third of the 2,300 agricultural co-operatives in France are engaged in the organic farming. These exist in sectors including wine (40%), meat (8%), fruit and vegetables (15%), dairy (8%), cereal (13%).

The figure is an increase from 2018, when only 615 were organically certified. The report also highlights some of the benefits brought by the co-operative model such as having a democratic structure that fosters collaborations and exchange of ideas between farmers.

At CUMA, an agricultural co-op in Épannes, Deux-Sèvres, farmers – organic and conventional – own and operate tools and machinery collectively.

“We didn’t want to split the group,” president Thierry Géant told Cooperation Agricole. “Conventional members were already using cultivators and wanted to evolve in their practices. Also, between neighbours, we cross paths every week, we exchange, we stand in solidarity and we lead the reflection together because we all have the same issues. That’s a strong asset of our co-operative.”

At SCAEL co-op in Chartes, d’Eure-et-Loir, organic grain production doubled to 5,500 tones in 2021 compared to 2020. The co-op expects the amount to triple compared to 2020 levels by 2025. To further encourage the conversion to organic, the co-op works to integrate the organic dimension into all its services from experimentation and agronomic advice to supply, collection and quality. In addition to this, the co-op produces a series of studies to enable farmers to assess the financial consequences of switching to organic, exploring regional contexts.

At France Lavande, a co-op from Montguers, Drôme, organic production began in 2007. At present 12 of the co-op’s 110 members are organically certified or in the process of acquiring the certification. While the co-op did not have a specific organic growth policy, its members started requesting that it diversified. The co-op was also approached by Etiquable, a co-op selling organic fairly traded products certified via the Bio Equitable (Fair Bio) label developed by another co-op – Biocoop in 2020. As such, France Lavande developed a new range of organic essential oils, which can be purchased via Etiquable’s website.

“In the face of climate emergencies, growing societal demands and consumer expectations, organic and conventional agricultural sectors are transferring good practices to accelerate their transition to a sustainable and resilient model”, said Dominique Chargé, president of La Coopération Agricole.

“This is what this collection of initiatives illustrates, through field testimonies that highlight the work of co-operatives, extension of farms, to accompany this virtuous dynamic throughout the food chain and in all territories.”

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