jeudi 17 août 2017

112- Quality -5- When organic gets going


It was to be expected. The organic begins to run up against the cancer of fresh products: the appearance. I told you about this a few months ago, explaining that this is probably the first criterion of quality, since its influence is direct, both on the purchase gesture and on the purchase price for the consumer, as well as on the price the farmer will receive for his production.

Until now, organic farming has escaped this problem which is generating an impressive amount of food waste. The classification of organic products does not follow the same requirements as conventional products.

In organic, rubbing damages, a large part of deformations, even heterogeneities of caliber in the same batch are tolerated. There is no first and second choice in organic. Normalization has not yet stuck its nose there.

This difference has long been a source of tension between organic and conventional growers, since most of these aspect defects have nothing to do with the method of production. They can be due to wind, hail, cold, pollination problems, bird strikes, and a host of other causes that can't be chemically controlled.
In short, this difference in criterion is purely political, intended to favor organic farming compared to conventional agriculture.

Historically, the difference in productivity between organic and conventional, evident in most crops, although not systematic, was largely offset by these differences in commercial criteria, allowing the organic to obtain a comparable quantity sold per hectare, thanks to a lower percentage of waste.

However, this commonly accepted rule, although without any justification in terms of taste quality, is beginning to lose its lustre. The year 2017 is a black year for many productions, mainly for serious commercial problems, great difficulties to sell, and generally very low selling prices, often lower for the farmer to his costs of production.

And what happens when the market is in this situation?
It is becoming more and more demanding on quality.
And now organic agriculture is beginning to face one of the main difficulties of conventional agriculture.
(Article recently published in the digital version of a well-known French generalist journal).

So, look at the case of these small organic farmers, despairing of a situation, altogether quite habitual, but to which they are not prepared:
 "A couple of farmers are preparing to let nearly three tons of zucchini rot, due to consumer demands.

Would a stain on a zucchini prevent you from buying it? This is in any case the reason for the mess of a large part of the production of a couple of organic farmers. Due to slight defects on their vegetables, Caroline and Cyril Roux are forced to watch their hard work rotting, due to consumer demands. "

Yes, I understand their state of mind, it is hard to accept.
Do you know, for example, that when I prepare my harvest forecasts, several months or weeks before I start, for the orchards for which I have responsibility, I introduce a value of 15% waste?
Yes, 15% of fruits not marketed, thrown in the trash mainly because of aspect defects.
And still, 15% is not too bad. This year, because of the difficult trading conditions, this percentage has risen to 20%, and last year, exceptionally difficult climatic year, we have almost reached 25%.

Every week during the harvest, dozens of tons of peaches and nectarines await trucks for industrial uses, a modern and profitable form (except for the farmer) to avoid simple destruction. They will be processed into juice, puree or concentrate. The only other option is the garbage. These fruits do not correspond to the commercial standard, mainly for aesthetic reasons (epidermis defects).

In my precocious, short cycle conditions, with specific varieties, which are generally not very productive, but adapted to the local climate, this means that for my peach or nectarine production, I know before starting that about 4,000 kilos of fruit per hectare will be trashed each year, and if I come across a tough year for any reason, that figure can exceed 6,000 kilos.
As these farmers say,
"These little green spots on zucchini were caused by the high temperatures of June. However, they don't alter the taste or quality of the vegetables. "Many want perfect organic" »

This is an inevitable evolution of the organic. This is one of the consequences of its success, its popularization.
More organic production, it's also the access to the organic of a wider, unprepared, uninformed public, who buys organic just because he thinks it's better without really thinking about the scope of this change.
As besides, it's a constantly growing market, it's a huge source of wealth for many people (see for example Biocoop or Kokopelli, unscrupulous businesses, fully exploiting a juicy vein), all means are allowed to attract new consumers, and disinformation is a great way to get there.
Many consumers are converting to organic, frightened by the nonsense that are told to them or by health scandals, for which there are only highlights on what interests ...
Who knows, for example, that among the batches of eggs contaminated with fipronil (a current food scandal in Europe), there are also batches of eggs sold as organic? This example comes from Belgium.

The big capitalists of organic are succeeding their bet: people are worried about the quality of their diet. For the planet, too, of course. But it's above all an individual gesture.
And people who convert to the consumption of organic products directly transpose their habits and requirements of consumers of standardized conventional products, on organic products.

The circle is going to complete. Consumers will force organic production to increase quality criteria, at least in terms of appearance.
An ever-increasing share of organic production is sold in supermarkets, without supervision or advice, and consumers buy at sight, so at appearance.
And what makes one of the main attractions of organic farming, from the farmer's point of view, the economic margin per hectare, is melting away.
Because an organic grower produces less, but sells a greater part of his production, and at a better average price ... so far.

It's changing.

Will this problem only be a bump in the organic road, the (too) rapid and (relatively) out-of-control development of this mode of production? It is possible, in the short term.
But don't doubt it, sooner or later, we will get there.

And what will happen when we get there?
What I explained to you a few months ago about the appearance: an increasingly important part of organic phytosanitary interventions will have a cosmetic objective.
Products will be organic, of course, but they will have much greater side effects.
For when a farmer knows that at least 15% of his harvest will be unsaleable, he does everything in his power to control everything he can control, in order to limit aspect defects to the maximum of his possibilities, therefore attacks of insects, bacteria, fungi (light damages are theoretically accepted in organic, but not in conventional).
So he will use an increasing amount of insecticides and fungicides, organic but not free of undesired side-effects.

And the respect for the environment, in all this?
It's a wish, a willingness, or a requirement of people who have the means to demand it, or the ignorance that does not allow them to know that these small defects of epidermis don't affect the quality of the most of the products, neither organic nor conventional.
And these same people, who "want perfect organic", are also often the same who are scandalized by food waste, or by negative effects of agriculture on the environment.
Because these requirements inevitably lead the farmer to implement agronomically unnecessary but economically indispensable practices.

Individual logic is often incompatible with community logic.
How to resolve this?
Probably by undistorted information, without ideology or commercial undertones, and by the education of the consumer.
The farmer can do some things, and in fact, blogs, objective (non-sensational) agricultural information programs and open days on the farm are multiplying in Western countries.

But the substantive work is not within the reach of the farmer, it should rather be the role of civil society, and therefore of public administration.

A man can dream, can't he?
In France, the "General States of Food" are currently held, a major consultation at the national level, concerning all stakeholders in the sector. This is an election promise of new President Macron.
It could give birth to a mouse, or put up so many brakes and constraints that farmers would become landscape gardeners.
However, involved ministers agreed that "to improve agricultural, environmental and social practices of producers, they must first be adequately remunerated, in order to encourage investment”.

It should be said that in France, one of the G8 countries (one of the most modern and richest countries in the world), one farmer out of two earned less than 350 € per month (around $ 400) in 2016. This sum does not say anything if it is not related to the SMIC (interprofessional minimum wage) which was in 2016 of 1143 € per month, all expenses deducted. In other words, one farmer out of two earns three times less than his own employees, or that what the national authorities consider today as the minimum to live decently in France!

And you would these people to be preoccupied with things that are quite abstract after all, when they struggle every day to make their businesses survive and to offer their families acceptable living and education conditions?

Some found in organic farming a dignified and elegant escape, economically interesting, and intellectually and socially rewarding.

There could be some disappointments ...


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