After spending a lot of time abroad, I have realised that Latvia’s greatest value is its green countryside and its people. This is one of the main reasons why I stayed in Latvia and moved with my family from Riga to the hills of Vidzeme. Talking to my farming neighbours for several years, a clear vision crystallized that by building a rural community around organic production, we can balance and achieve three goals – care for nature, thriving rural areas and and economic development of farms.
I am sure that organic food production has a future. Over the past decade, organic farming in Latvia has grown from a hobby to a self-sufficient and profitable industry. Both the organic area farmed and the volumes produced per hectare are increasing. It is now certain that we know how to grow produce organically. Demand for organic production in Europe is growing every year and in some countries already makes 30% of the total food volume. Consumers are also willing to pay more for it. I believe that in the coming years organic food will become an even more important export commodity for Latvia.
In Latvia, the biggest stumbling block for the growth of the industry is the production sales opportunities. At the moment, we are not yet able to take the money that a buyer in Germany or Sweden is willing to pay for organic food. In Latvia, you can count on the fingers of one hand the companies that buy organic produce from farmers. They control the market and are able to dictate prices to the farmer, who in the end has no choice. Another weakness is the inability to sell directly abroad. The individual farmer is unable to secure a minimum level of purchases and to cope with the administrative burden of even getting a contract with a partner outside Latvia.
How to overcome these challenges? The answer lies in cooperation and processing. Cooperation in agriculture has long roots. Also in Latvia, cooperation has successfully proved itself – so far mainly in conventional cereal and dairy farming. The biggest benefit of cooperating organic farmers is the opportunity for each to do what they do the best – the farmer grows a sustainable, quality crop, while the cooperative ensures that the crop is marketed at the best possible prices and takes some of the administrative burden off the farmer’s shoulders.
Both the area under organic farming and the production per hectare are increasing.
It is now safe to say that we know how to grow organic produce.
We also need to encourage the processing of organic products – so that more added value stays in Latvia. We need to be able to process it ourselves and deliver it to shops. But again, this cannot be done by one farmer. Not only do we need to come together, but we also need to process the produce. TThat is why I believe that the future lies in cooperation. Although there is a perception that the Latvian farmer is a one-man farmer, I believe that we can break this perception. Also, by coming together, we will be better heard – the organic farmers’ voice must be louder.
As a result of these reflections, a group of like-minded people, united in their concern for our green earth and the place of the modern man in the countryside, crystallised a vision that Latvia, and perhaps even the Baltics, should become a recognisable region for sustainable organic farming. A region with a dynamically growing share of organic certified farmland, a significant volume of organic production and decent remuneration for farmers. This is how the idea of Jurgensburg Agro – a modern and strong cooperative – was born.
The cooperative is based on a professional management team with farmers, processors and food professionals with international experience at its core. Our aim is to help farmers continue to farm and grow in order to engage in economically viable farming practices that are good for society and the environment.
We have created a unified brand so that we can speak convincingly not only to the buyers of Jurgensburg Agro’s crops, but also to the consumers of the processed products. This brand has to meet the highest quality standards in order to export our products successfully. We are already working hard to enrol new members, to identify seed supply for the sowing season, and to negotiate with sales partners in preparation for the 2022 harvest.
Initially, the focus of the cooperative will be on crop production, which we eventually want to expand to other agricultural sectors. We believe that the cooperative should not only support existing organic farmers, but also promote the transition to organic production. Therefore, Jurgensburg Agro will also welcome farmers who want to convert to organic farming but need advice on conversion and marketing of organic products.