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The organic growth of agriculture in Hungary

There are many reasons to start pursuing organic farming, ranging from health benefits to tastier products, but profitability is not one of them.

Sustainability may be a newfound term in corporate dictionaries, but it definitely isn’t in agriculture. Conscientious farmers have long been using methods to ease the burden on the environment, and among the various cultivation practices, organic is the one that best promises to preserve natural resources. Compared to intensive farming, however, it involves a number of difficulties and is often less profitable.

Fortunately, profit is not the number one driver of farmers committed to this way of cultivation. László Berkesi, the head of Grip Kft, a company producing organic foods and oils, turned to organic farming after working as an engineer designing medical devices. It didn’t come as a drastic change though, as Berkesi and his family had always led a healthy and eco-conscious life. “Having seen how much fitter and energetic I was compared to my peers, there was no question about the correctness of this mindset.”

He now grows, processes and sells organic plants like pumpkins, rapeseeds, sunflower seeds and grapes, and also produces salad and vegetable oils from them. Of 250 hectares of land, 40–50 is pasture to protect crops from pests and the rest is cropland. Another 1,000–1,200 hectares are in contractual production. Most of the crop is exported as 3–4 months of payment delays often occur. “Organic farming is not lucrative anyway, so it doesn’t hurt to have some funds and a well-off family,” added Berkesi. “Especially since we haven’t seen much support from the state in the past few years.”

It was not state stimulus that made one of the country’s leading wine cellars switch to organic, either. Since 2010, Gere Winery has been cultivating all its cropland organically. “Triggered by the good results we had during two years of testing on a limited area, we decided to go fully organic,” Andrea Gere told the Budapest Business Journal. Thanks to its southern location, Villány is particularly suitable for organic wine-growing, she claims. The number of sunny days is high. Rain, which creates perfect conditions for diseases, is less frequent and is quickly dried up by brisk winds.

Unfortunately, climate itself won’t protect crops entirely. “Organic farming does require more labor, which definitely raises costs,” Gere admits. “Still, we are doing it as a courtesy to nature.” They are probably right as, in return, they will get truly fine wines. “The omission of pesticides allows the character of the soil to manifest clearly, resulting in more complex and exciting wines.” It may be tasty wines that have convinced many winegrowers in the region to follow this path. Among them are representatives of the younger generation such as Andrea Gere, who are badly needed in this sector.

“The community of organic farmers is aging. People are less willing to take risks or learn something new,” Berkesi explained. “When the government recently announced funding for organic cultivation of field crops, many didn’t apply because they didn’t want to deal with the administration or learn to use a computer.” Farmers won’t pass down this tradition to their children either. “No one wants their kids to have a tough life,” Berkesi said.

Even so, he is optimistic. Farmers expect more support from the current government and the EU, and changes in legislation are also likely to boost this method of cultivation.