Organic farm sales grow despite drought

The first official Australian organic data in four years has been launched by Biological Farmers of Australia revealing that the organic industry is potentially as resilient in drought as its products claim to be healthy for consumers.

Independently researched by the University of New England’s Organic Research Group, and commissioned by the Biological Farmers of Australia (BFA), the Australian Organic Market Report (AOMR) is based on industry-wide survey data and builds upon research published by the Federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) in 2004.

BFA director and standards chair, Dr Andrew Monk, said that “for an industry which has somewhat been restricted by a lack of relevant and accessible information in recent years, the AOMR is a benchmark research document which promises to assist in the industry’s future monitoring and planning.

“The AOMR will serve as a key tool for decision making for potential and existing organic producers and marketers, while offering reference points for government, media and interested parties, allowing for a better understanding overall of the nature, size and structure of the organic industry in Australia,” said Dr Monk.

Among the key findings of the research are:

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  • Retail value (incorporating imports and adjusting for exports) was estimated for the first time above $0.5B. Retail value reached $578,000,000 with reports of between 10 and 30%+ growth per annum for some sectors since the last report in 2004.
  • 2007 farm gate values were estimated to be in excess of $231,000,000 — an 80% increase on the 2004 DAFF research findings.
  • With 11,988,044 hectares, Australia accounts for the largest amount of certified organic farmland in the world, the majority of which is used for extensive grazing.
  • Major retailers now carry in excess of 500 different organic lines in fresh and grocery categories.
  • The number of certified organic operators has increased by an annual 5.2% average net over the last 5 years, during a time of ongoing decrease in overall farmer numbers in Australia. In 2007 the total number of certified organic operators was 2750 — made up of farmers, processors and marketers. Almost three quarters of all operators are producers, representing 1.5 — 1.8% of all growers in Australia.
  • The average age of an organic producer in Australia is lower than a non-organic producer. The organic industry is consolidating and the average size of organic farms has increased, highlighting a trend towards professional farming at a larger scale, and farm area expansion by operators experiencing long-term success in utilising organic systems.
  • Horticulture remains a major stay of the industry. Some two thirds of organic farmers make up this sector which represents almost half of the total organic farm gate value in Australia. Fresh produce remains the primary ‘point of entry’ for new organic consumers.
  • Despite widespread drought, farm gate sales have risen by over 80% as an average across all sectors since last reported in 2004. Grains and broadacre livestock were most impacted by drought, effectively decreasing the reported average for industry overall.
  • 40% of consumers now buy organic food at least on occasion.

Dr Monk said that “while most agriculture has suffered in recent years from drought and floods, many sectors of the organic industry have recovered to be able to consolidate and expand.

“Such rapid growth is likely to be attributed to a combination of consumer driven interest in purchasing organic products in line with overseas trends, as well as possibly the naturally more resilient nature of organically well-managed soils, enabling faster recovery following extreme dry or wet weather periods alike.”

The AOMR reports on farm gate value by sector; estimated retail, import and export values; the reported unit price range for each sector; numbers of organic farmers and operation growth; area of organic production in Australia; and demographic information on organic stakeholders and consumers.

Its official launch takes place Friday evening this week at the Organic Expo in Darling Harbour Sydney, and will follow in four other states over the following weeks.

It is intended that the research will be commissioned every two years from 2008 with underwriting support from BFA and matching support from industry and governments.

2008 key funding entities include: the BFA, major sponsor Westpac Banking Corporation, all six State Governments and eight supporting organic businesses, representing the diversity of the supply and value chain of organic production and marketing in Australia.

For further information contact:

Dr Andrew Monk

BFA Director and Organic Standards Chair

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