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100 Billion Forints to Support the Expansion of Organic Farming in Hungary

A specialist conference presented the measures laid out in the Organic Agriculture Action Plan

At a one-day online conference, professionals in the agricultural sector reviewed the current trends and challenges for organic farming in Hungary. The focus was on the National Action Plan for the Development of Organic Farming (ÖCST), which was published under the auspices of the Ministry of Agriculture. The programme, which was organised by the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (ÖMKi), featured presentations by leading figures in the industry, while specialists in a range of topics gave talks at sub-meetings. The event was opened by Dr Zsolt Feldman, the Secretary of State at the Ministry of Agriculture, who emphasised the highly knowledge-intensive nature of organic agricultural production. As such, training, advisory services and innovation will play a key role in the future, and so the Ministry will ensure more EU and domestic funding than ever before.

In his opening address, the State Secretary for Agriculture made the following remarks: “In recent years, we have witnessed very impressive development, as data indicates that Hungary has seen the third-largest net increase in the proportion of areas under organic cultivation over the recent period: by 2020, the total area amounted to 6.12% of agricultural land. In the Organic Action Plan we have set a responsible and realistic target of increasing this share to 10% by 2027.”

The principal value of the action plan is that it comprehensively reviews the development opportunities for organic farming – something which had not previously been done. It envisages the creation of a support system in which organic farmers can enjoy long-term livelihoods and professional success while serving the expanding domestic and EU organic food market.

Most of the subsidies for 2022-25 have already been decided

According to ministry data, by the end of March, 90% of the most recent, 2021 applications for organic farming had been evaluated: based on the decisions, 3,400 farmers with a combined total of around 150,000 hectares will receive 33 billion forints in annual support for the next three-year period. Decisions on the remaining 10% of applications will also be published shortly by the ministry, but it is already clear that 60% of the supported areas are arable, so the current imbalance towards pasture land in the organic sector appears to be reversing.

With these subsidies, the Ministry of Agriculture is not only aiming to increase funding for organic farming. The intension is that in addition to the significant investment fund represented by the new CAP, which will result in a 50% increase in subsidies, farmers engaged in organic farming and the growing of organic produce can expect an additional subsidy increase of 10%. Resources for the establishment of a new Hungarian organic label will also be provided.

Training is vital, rejuvenation is indispensable

Professionals agree that for a successful organic transition, farmers need expert advice, accessible market data, value chain development and sales collaborations. Knowledge transfer is also key to the practical application of new research findings, and it will be necessary to train competent professionals who can be involved in the day-to-day work of farmers. Demonstration centres, well-equipped organic teaching farms and the creation of suitable vocational and higher education courses are therefore essential.

Some interesting international tendencies that complemented the action plan and the agricultural program were also discussed at the meeting. In Western Europe, the trend of young people migrating to the countryside, chiefly from large cities, has been apparent for some time. Presenting the Hungarian 2030 Reviving Countryside, Reviving Agriculture Programme, Deputy Secretary of State Dr Anikó Juhász outlined the vision and implementation system for generational change, through which it is hoped that the number of farmers under 40 years of age will double. Alongside these rejuvenation goals, it is vital to double the proportion of farmers with vocational qualifications. Sustainability, digitalisation and innovation may be important keywords to reach young people.

It is essential to involve farmers in organic research

During the meeting, Dr Dóra Drexler, the director of ÖMKi and vice-president of IFOAM Organics Europe, gave a talk on the research institute's On-Farm Research Network. She highlighted the advantages of the network’s methodology with reference to a specific example, grain variety tests:

“Ten years ago we launched the On-Farm Research Network with the aim of achieving practical results that would be useful in everyday farming. We conduct research that connects Hungary to the international scientific community, while supporting value chain development by actively engaging in innovation with local economic actors, producers, processors, and advisors. So far, using the so-called ‘living laboratory’ method, which is based on participatory research, we have generated research results that can be applied in practice to provide answers to problems that farmers find important, and to increase their competitiveness.”

During the event, participants received a data-supported picture of the situation of organic farming in Hungary, the profitability of organic production and its positive impact on biodiversity. Expectations that the sector will soon benefit from a new set of conditions and a new protective label were also discussed. The afternoon sub-meetings covered such key research topics as farming for soil protection, or the role inter-row cover-planting can play in the supply of nutrients and water, as well as a discussion regarding peat substitution in seedling cultivation. The digitalisation meeting focused on data and information, with experts introducing precision animal husbandry solutions and practical experience in the grazed beef sector. The presentations, which are in Hungarian, can also be viewed on ÖMKi's YouTube channel.

7 key areas for the development of organic farming

In order to further promote the spread of organic farming in Hungary, the new National Action Plan sets out the tasks for the period from 2022 to 2027, grouped around seven key action areas:

  • Coordination of local CAP support instruments for the development of organic farming;
  • Increasing domestic supply and demand by further stimulating the production of organic food, developing organic value chains and green public procurement, and formulating information and promotion campaigns;
  • Meeting the special mechanization needs of organic farming, thus reducing the difficulties caused by labour shortages, especially in arable and horticultural production and animal husbandry, which require precision equipment;
  • Safeguarding and strengthening training and education in organic farming, in both vocational and university settings, as well as in adult education;
  • Establishing and expanding the advisory and expert network in organic farming, through the development of professional advisory system, knowledge transfer on organic farming, expert working groups, and an online knowledge base, thus facilitating greater information awareness among farmers;
  • Strengthening Hungarian research, development, and innovation (RDI) on organic farming, while at the same time expanding on the success of Hungarian agricultural RDI participation in the EU framework research programme Horizon Europe;
  • Expanding the audit and certification system using 21st century technology, strengthening consumer confidence and reducing the administrative burden on farmers.

The full document is available (in Hungarian) here: https://kormany.hu/dokumentumtar/nemzeti-cselekvesi-terv-az-okologiai-gazdalkodas-fejleszteseert 

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