EkoConnect – International Centre for Organic
Agriculture of Central and Eastern Europe e.V.
Phone: +49 (0) 351-20 66 172
Fax: +49 (0) 351-20 66 174
Country Report: Organic Agriculture in Estonia
Organic agriculture in Estonia has developed strongly over the last few years. At the time of the Soviet Union, the northernmost of the three Baltic states was specialised above all on meat and dairy production. Today it has – after the Czech Republic – the highest share of organically cultivated area in Central and Eastern Europe. At the moment, considerable 6.0% of the whole agricultural area – more than 58,000 ha (incl. acreage that is in the process of being conversed) – are cultivated according to organic standards.
There is a total agricultural area of 850,000 ha that benefits by subsidies from the state. In addition to that, some 300,000 to 500,000 ha lie fallow.
While in 1999 only 89 organic farms with a total acreage of 4,000 ha existed, there are today 1013 of them. The average size of each farm is 58 ha. 70% of the farms have less than 50 ha, 7% have more than 200 ha at their disposal. The two biggest organic farms in Estonia are specialised on dairy products; each of them cultivates about 850 ha.
60% of the organic farms have already been conversed completely to organic agriculture; 16% of them are in their second or third year of conversion and 24% in their first one.
Most of the organic area can be found in the extensively cultivated regions in the South and the West of the state, above all on the island of Hiiu, where 117 organic farms cultivate about 70% of the whole agricultural area, followed by the regions Saare, Võru and Lääne.
Most of the organic farms have a mixed production (632). 376 of them are specialised on plant
production and five on meat production. In spite of the high proportion of grassland (all in all 81.8%), less than two thirds of the organic farms keep animals (63%). Here you have to keep in mind that in Estonia, a cultivation of grass and legumes for one or more years is called "grassland" as well. A cultivation of grass and legumes for one or more years is thus not assigned to the arable farm land and takes 62.1% of the whole organic area. On just under 12% of the whole organic area cereals are cultivated, on 1.5% permanent crops (in most cases fruit and berries) are produced, while on 1.4% herbs, potatoes and vegetables are growing. The animals that are most often kept according to organic standards are cattle and sheep. Already one third of the Estonian sheep are produced organically. Most of the 1013 Estonian organic farms are members of the organisations Estonian BioDynamic Association (EBA) or Estonian Organic Producers Union. The EBA was founded already in 1989 and organized the first courses in organic farming together with Scandinavian and German colleagues. The Estonian Organic Producers Union exists since 2000. It strives above all to merge the offers of the larger organic farms for marketing.
After the growth of the organic sector was slowing down in the mid-1990s, in 1997/1998 a strong increase could be observed again when the state began to pay more attention to organic agriculture
by supporting it with a special programme and introducing the governmental eco-emblem "Mahemärk".
In 2001, the eco-law (Estonian Organic Farming Act) of 1997 was adapted to the EC regulation
2092/91. In contrast to many other EU countries, the control of producers, processors, traders and caterers of organic products is carried out – just like in Denmark – by a public agency. The farms themselves are controlled by the Estonian Plant Production Inspectorate (PPI). Small farms up to 10 ha pay 13 € per year. In addition to that, 0.32 € have to be paid for each ha that exceeds 10 ha.
The maximum total fee amounts to about 510 €. Farms that produce according to organic standards and have also conventional areas (which is possible according to the EU-VO 2092/91), have to pay the fee for their conventional area as well.
In addition to associations, the training and consultation sector is also well-developed in Estonia: Two private organisations, the Centre for Ecological Engineering (CEET, 1992) and the Estonian Organic Farming Foundation (EOFF, 2001) support organic farming by providing information material. Besides, they offer information events and further education courses for organic farmers and those who are interested in conversing their farms. The modern and well-equipped Estonian Agricultural University in Tartu and some agricultural colleges are engaged in organic farming as well.
The farms are supported financially by grants of the Estonian support programme for agricultural
environment measures: In 2004, the payments for arable farming land amounted to 96.89 €/ha, to 73.88 €/ha for grassland and to 240.56 €/ha for horticulture and fruit production. Those farms that are in the process of conversing to organic agriculture receive the same payments as those that have already completely conversed. Up to now there are hardly any investment grants for organic producers, which makes the modernization of their farms more difficult. Furthermore, it is often the reason why organic farming is carried out only in an extensive way.
Sources: Ader, E. and Palts, E. (2005); Mansberg, M. (personal information, 2005); Vetemaa, A. et al.
(2005), EkoConnect research