With this question the Lake Constance Foundation invited representatives from organic processing and organic trade to a panel discussion at the Biofach 2020 in Nuremberg. In an introductory presentation, Andreas Ziermann, a member of the Lake Constance Foundation’s staff in the LIFE AgriAdapt project, explained the effects of climate change on agriculture and how individual farms can adapt. As an important element in the project, he explained the vulnerability assesment, an instrument that shows the vulnerability of farms to climate change and supports decisions on sustainable adaptation. Afterwards, organic representatives from production, processing and trade discussed how climate change is affecting the organic sector and how it might affect it in the future.

How climate change is affecting the organic sector

Yield losses due to unfavourable weather conditions are a problem especially where regional products are important for the brand, for example at Bodan, the organic wholesaler on Lake Constance. Lower yields or lower qualities cannot be compensated by imported goods, but would have to be compensated in other ways. Sascha Damaschun, Managing Director of the Southern German trading company, reported that, for example, potatoes that were too small due to the drought in 2018 could still be marketed well as “lucky potatoes”. Apples with skin defects, however, tend to be rejected by customers.

Inner values also play an important role. Hubertus Doms, in the management of the baby food manufacturer Hipp GmbH, named the residue problem as a serious challenge. Due to changing weather conditions, the uptake of heavy metals by plants changes – even if only in very small quantities. In order to be able to produce 100 t of flawless goods, they would have to contract the cultivation of up to 400 t (e.g. carrots) in some cases in order to obtain the desired quality.

Jörg Große-Lochtmann, director of the market company of Naturland Bauern AG, is also confronted with changes in the quality of the products. One example is the Falling Number and gluten value in cereals, which occur in unusual proportions that are no longer ideal for baking quality.

Solutions for the organic sector – and the conventional food trade

To a certain extent, fluctuations in quantity and quality can be compensated, for example, by storing and blending the harvests. In the future, however, customers would have to learn again to tolerate goods with visual defects. It will also happen that goods will sometimes not be available. This would require an increasing sensitisation of consumers.

At best, we create a social sponsorship to create a cohesion from consumers to producers and to secure the production of food and thus the farming profession. For example, the concept of solidarity-based agriculture on a larger scale could be such a solution.

Overall, the panellists agreed that the organic food industry can better deal with climate change. Organic farming is better equipped to cope with yield fluctuations due to greater biodiversity and a stronger focus on building soil fertility. A well-structured soil with a high humus content can absorb water more quickly and store it for longer, and is thus better adapted to extreme rainfall and droughts, which will occur more frequently and more severely in many places in the future. The systemic approach of countering (plant) diseases through diversity can be better realised in organic trade. If, for example, ten different types of lettuce are grown on one area to reduce the occurrence of harmful fungi, the organic food store can benefit with a varied and colourful range of products. All these advantages must be expanded and made available to conventional producing colleagues as well as the entire food industry.