Commentary organic farming: new strategies for agriculture

The organic model is of little use if only a small proportion of farmers participate. Ways must be found to green the entire agricultural economy.

Cultivation must also be profitable for organic farmers. Photo: dpa

We need a new strategy to make agriculture more environmentally and animal friendly. This must be the consequence of the fact that organic farming has been languishing for years: the proportion of fields, meadows and pastures managed according to the rules of the organic regulation has stagnated at 6 percent. The organic area in Germany has never grown as little as it did in 2014 – even though the state has been subsidizing organic farming for decades now.

At the same time, however, more and more plant and animal species are becoming extinct because conventional agriculture applies too much pesticide and fertilizer. Water is increasingly polluted with chemicals from the fields. In addition, the industry often keeps its animals under undignified conditions.

Organic farmers are on average better in these respects. They prove every day that a different kind of agriculture is possible. That is why they are still necessary as a model for the entire industry. And for this reason, the state should continue to support them in the future.

But the organic model is of little use if it is permanently implemented on only 6 percent of the land. We can no longer wait until the last farmer has converted to organic. The problems caused by agriculture are simply too urgent for that.

The new strategy must therefore be to improve conventional agriculture more than before. Fertilizer regulations must be tightened up so that fewer superfluous nutrients are released into the environment. The state should make it even more difficult to use pesticides. And in animal husbandry, the watchwords are: exercise for all, more space in the barn, and an end to the amputation of limbs to adapt animals to poor husbandry conditions.

In the long term, such rules would also benefit organic farmers. Because these measures could make conventional production more expensive. Which would only be fair. After all, conventional farmers have so far produced more cheaply, for example by contaminating drinking water with agricultural chemicals – which then have to be rendered harmless again at the expense of the general public.

If the cost gap between organic and other foods were to narrow, it would also become more attractive again for farmers to switch to organic farming with its more costly production methods.