2023 #EUOrganic Award: Burgenland is Europe's best organic region

Organic farming
25 September 2023
2023 #EUOrganic Award: Burgenland is Europe's best organic region

Organic farming is an important element of sustainable EU farming. It contributes significantly to reducing the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides and has a positive effects on our climate, the environment, biodiversity and animal welfare. Organic production is thus playing a key role in achieving the objectives of the European Green Deal.

We are proud to announce that the Austrian State of Burgenland, led by governor and PES Group member Hans Peter Doskozil, has at today's EU's organic awards ceremony been awarded as Europe's 2023 best organic region. In this interview, Deputy Governor Astrid Eisenkopf tells us more about this success story...     

Burgenland has taken a truly organic turn thanks to the implementation of the “Bioland Burgenland” strategy. What is it about and what are your main fields of action?     
In 2018, the Burgenland Landtag initiated the organic turn in Burgenland, with the aim of strengthening and expanding organic farming in the state. In the course of this, Burgenland hopes to become the organic flagship region in Europe and the number one organic state in Austria. 

The goal of Burgenland is to use organic products to create an advantage for the entire state and thus all sectors of its economy. This is not about mere management of agricultural production, but about a holistic approach: Healthy soils and an intact environment for future generations are reason enough to set the course for the future. 

In addition to the area-wide increase in organic agriculture, the policy has also set additional objectives that go beyond the field of agriculture. In order for the process of achieving "Bioland Burgenland" to succeed, a holistic view and a set of measures are needed. For this reason, the so called "Bio-Wende", a “12-point programme for smart growth with organic farming”, was launched. 

Bio Burgenland
To further develop organic farming in Burgenland, increasing the organic area  is one possible objective. Therefore, the Land of Burgenland has defined the achievement of a 50% organic land share by 2027 as a central objective. However, in order to achieve this ambitious goal, it is necessary to consider and include areas that go beyond agriculture (such as the value chain, outreach, education, consulting). 

By strengthening organic farming, creating new yield opportunities for local farmers, with healthy food in hospitals, kindergartens and schools, with more quality awareness and regional added value and consistently reducing pesticides to protect health, Burgenland should become the number one organic state. These recommendations have been rapidly integrated into the accompanying measures of the 12-point programme. Considerable steps have already been taken and significant successes have been recorded towards achieving the goal (50% organic area by 2027) and achieving Bioland Burgenland.


Can you briefly present us one of the projects successfully implemented and that can inspire other regions in Europe?

In the 12-point programme for smart growth with organic farming, we expressed a clear intention to support our native farmers in the transition to the biological economy: to promote rather than to demand. 

A special guideline on the further development of organic agriculture was therefore adopted by the Burgenland state government. Promoting organic conversion should include providing targeted financial support to Burgenland farmers in their transition to the biological economy. For this purpose, the Land of Burgenland provided state-owned funding of a maximum of EUR 15 000- per promoter. 

The funding will be paid in two tranches, regardless of the size of the holding. Organic conversion support partially offset both the additional costs and the additional costs associated with this conversion to organic farming for the operators who switched their farm based in the Burgenland to organic farming. 

The central point was the first conversion from Burgenland farms to organic farming. The applicant was thus granted a one off grant as a starting premium for the conversion of a previously conventionally managed company to an organic approach. 

The interest among Burgenland farmers in switching to organic farming was so high that the financial resources had to be increased several times. The balance after the expiry of the Directive is impressive – 155 farms with a total sum of EUR 2 325 000 were supported when they switched to organic farming. A statistical evaluation of the applications by the specialist department of the state to be supervised showed that, in all districts of Burgenland, farms have switched to organic farming. 

Furthermore, it was found that the farms that have converted to an organic approach also have a wide variety of agricultural sectors. The organic conversion funding has shown how important this initiative, established by the Land of Burgenland, was for our farmers in Burgenland. 

On the basis of the figures, one can already see that Burgenland’s agriculture is clearly ready take this pat together with us, and is ready to change. The state and Burgenland’s organic farmers have recognised how things stand and together they are on the way to a sustainable future.

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In several European countries, there is a drop in the consumption of organic products linked to the high inflation that we are experiencing. Buying healthy organic food has simply become too expensive for an ordinary family. What measures did you put in place to remedy this and make sure everyone can benefit from organic farming?

I cannot confirm this fact, as according to a recent survey by AMA marketing (September 2023) there is good news to report on the organic market in Austria. According to an evaluation of the total organic market in 2022 (food retail, direct sales and organic specialist trade, catering), this again showed a high increase in sales. 

Regional food with organic quality is appreciated by our consumers and this has recently also been demonstrated by higher demand for organic products on the domestic market. The latest figures on sales in the food retail sector in Austria show that consumers remain loyal to organic food even in times of inflation. In 2023, organic retail purchases remained stable at 11.5% despite increased living costs. 

The data also shows that organic food has been a brake on inflation. For example, the price difference with conventional products has decreased significantly in retail shelf prices, as organic food has seen a lower price increase. Our Burgenland farmers produce high-quality products that are increasingly in demand on the market. 

The fact that organic produce continues to grow during the crisis clearly demonstrates awareness of the need for and benefits of organic food production. It is therefore also a sign of appreciation for organic farmers and for the special organic quality. The purchase of organic products from the region promises the best quality and at the same time secures numerous domestic jobs, on fair terms. Organic farming in Austria does not depend on feed imports from far away because the animals receive regional and Austrian feed. It is about a circular economy.

In Burgenland it is also important to us that even the little ones come into contact with organic food. In our opinion, for positive mental and physical development of our children in kindergarten, in addition to pedagogical care, good and, above all, healthy food is needed. Therefore, another essential goal is to ensure healthy nutrition for our children, which is why the introduction of a 50% organic quota by 2021 and 100% in kindergarten catering by 2024 has been enshrined in law. 

In order to ensure the healthy diet of the children and to financially support the families, the Land of Burgenland offers families under certain conditions support for lunch in the Burgenland child education and care facilities. In this way, we want to ensure that everyone can enjoy organic food.

How can Europe help to make your region succeed in reaching its ambitious goals?

The European Commission has presented its “farm to fork” strategies and protecting biodiversity as part of the New Green Deal sustainability initiative. It identifies organic farming as an essential cornerstone of the transformation to a sustainable agriculture and food industry in the EU. The EU-wide organic share is to be increased to 25% by 2030, and thus, among other things, use of chemical-synthetic pesticides is to be halved. 

The fact that the European Commission wants to establish concrete targets for the organic share in agriculture for the first time and, at the same time, set measures for market development is a positive signal for the transformation of agriculture towards equally ecological and economic sustainability. Organic farming is a proven model of agriculture that meets the needs of farmers and those of the environment, climate and society alike. Organic is the highest legally regulated standard for sustainable agriculture and food production, with a complete ban on chemical-synthetic pesticides and mineral fertilisers. 

Organic agriculture thus makes a significant contribution every day to more biodiversity, climate protection, healthy food and a healthy environment. Organic farming helps to shape a sustainable and resilient agricultural and food system for all citizens. It will now be crucial to concretely implement the objectives of the Biodiversity and Farm-to-Fork Strategy, especially in the European common agricultural policy, in order to reward the achievements of farmers for society and thus to make ecologically and economically sustainable agriculture more competitive. 

Currently, 40.2% of the agricultural area in Burgenland is organically managed. The fact that we have such a high organic share in Burgenland is a factor contributing to greater resilience in the agriculture and food industry. 

At the same time, organic farming helps to address the challenges of the climate crisis and biodiversity decline. Every hectare that is organically managed is good for the environment, the climate and, at the same time, an investment in a more resilient food system. With the organic turn that has been set in motion, there is an active support from the state for organic agriculture to be further developed and successfully implemented with great steps in Burgenland. 

In addition to all the initiatives set up by the state of Burgenland, however, it must however be mentioned that the ecological and social benefits of domestic farms must continue to be adequately rewarded by EU funding. 

The EU Organic Awards are jointly organised by the European Commission, the European Committee of the Regions, the European Economic and Social Committee, COPA-COGECA and IFOAM Organics Europe, with the support of the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. One region, one city and one bio-district were honoured with an EU Organic Award: Burgenland (Austria) as best organic region, Vienna (Austria) as best organic city, and Idanha-a-Nova(Portugal) as best organic bio-district.


© Photo credits: Markus Spiske / Unsplash