The organic market in Denmark is the largest in the world, with organic food making up roughly 13% of the total retail food market in 2020 (FiBL, 2023). In this mainly consumer demand-driven market, the main products are dairy products, eggs, oatmeal, wheat flour and carrots. Imports play an important role to satisfy the growing demand for organic products in the country. Organic exports from Denmark accounted for approximately 15% of all Danish organic sales in 2021 (Bech-Larsen et al., 2023). The relevant product groups for exports have hardly changed over the years with dairy products and eggs standing out, followed by (pig) meat and vegetables. Almost half of the exports go to Germany, followed by Sweden, and, at a certain distance, China, the Netherlands and France. Over the past five years, organic exports have doubled to almost EUR 400 million (Danish Agriculture & Food Council & Organic Denmark and Food Nation, 2023). In 2021, the organic land area and area under conversion was 303.093 ha, which accounts for 11.5% of the utilized agricultural area (UAA) (FiBL, 2023). The organic area expanded between 2001 and 2021 by 80%. The two main land use types in organic agriculture are arable land (83%) and permanent grassland (15.7%) (EUROSTAT, 2023b). The standard and well-respected labelling system supporting the organic market development in Denmark rests in a unique and broadly trusted approach of the Danish state overseeing both regulation and inspection. More than 95% of the Danish population knows and trusts the Danish organic label (red crown in the Øko-symbol (Landbrug & Fødevarer, 2017).
Key drivers and barriers for the organic sector development
Denmark has the highest share of organic in retail sales and was one of the first countries where an organic standard and a respective labelling system, rules and public inspections system was put in place. This early, strong, and reliable logo in combination with an already existing consumer interest was supportive for market development in the country. The AKIS environment builds on a mixture of participatory and top-down approaches, where the AKIS for organic is well integrated into the general AKIS structure.
One central aspect stands out as conducive to organic farming in Denmark; the involvement and commitment of the state in active promotion of organic farming as well as the involvement of other mainstream actors such as large retail chains/supermarkets in the marketing of organic products. This is accompanied by a very good accessibility of organic products by consumers. In Denmark, supply-push measures are in place, but policy mainly focusses on a demand-pull strategy to promote organic farming – being very active in promoting the organic market. Organic farming has been integrated into mainstream agricultural extension and advice services at a very early stage. Research and development funds are granted, with Denmark having invested especially in research related to market development. Organic farming is defined in political agreements. In Denmark, organic farming is pursued as a goal in its own right, with the aim of making agriculture more sustainable. Overall, organic farming is accompanied by ambitious action plans with defined resources. In Denmark organic farming associations are managed to form a coalition with a range of actors (e.g., conventional farming actors, consumers).
AKIS in Denmark
Denmark’s organic sector showcases a well-structured AKIS with strong collaboration and proactive farmer engagement as well as an outstanding collection of data and literature freely available for farmers. However, challenges remain in the areas of funding and knowledge exchange between research and extension. A targeted strategic approach, improved funding mechanisms, and enhanced integration could further strengthen Denmark’s already effectively functioning organic knowledge and innovation system.
Policy background of AKIS relevant to organic sector
Denmark is one of the first countries to follow the organic standard with the introduction of an organic labelling system, organic rules and public inspections. This created a strong, trusted national logo, that supported the already existing consumer interest. The first Organic Action Plan (OAP) was launched in 1995. Back in that time, this innovative political action was a driving force for new knowledge creation and the overall development of the organic sector in Denmark. However, there is no strategic document that specifically supports the development of AKIS for organic, coupled with a lack of funds to invest directly in AKIS. Instead, the importance of knowledge and innovation is mentioned in several country-level strategic policy papers, including the new CAP Strategic Plan where the main objective is digitalization. The CAP SP aims to maintain the already existing AKIS and continue the tradition of participatory and top-down mix of approaches supporting operations of AKIS, while not separating AKIS for organic from the general AKIS structure.
Knowledge creation, research and innovation
The research structure behind the organic sector is mostly practice-oriented, characterised by a good flow of knowledge and collaboration among AKIS actors in applied research projects. The main hubs for knowledge creation and innovation in organic farming in Denmark are ICOEL (Innovation Centre for Organic Farming), Organic Denmark (Økologisk Landsforening; farmer owned, mostly strategic and political), SEGES Innovation (R&D for conventional farming), and advisory service providers. The International Centre for Research in Organic Food Systems (ICROFS) situated at Aarhus University seeks to improve the knowledge exchange between research and extension. Freely accessible research and information on e.g., AKIS actors’ website are important e-knowledge sources for the organic sector in Denmark.
Education and training
Aarhus University offers a two-year MSc programme in organic agriculture and food systems. Efforts have been made to develop a curriculum that focuses on organic farming and to provide training programmes and courses on organic farming at the agricultural colleges (Landbrugsskolerne), requested by the organic farming associations, and supported by the Agriculture and Food Council (LF). ICOEL organises education programmes for farmers focusing on organic farming. Unlike public education in general, most training programmes in agriculture are not free of charge. Still, a considerable amount of information is freely available online.
Advice and consultancy
Advisory service providers are a key link between farmers and other AKIS actors. All conventional advisory organisations offer services in organic farming as a separate but fully integrated part of their portfolio. Although consultants are available throughout the country, in some regions they do not prioritize issues of organic conversion in their services. Besides the technical aspects of organic farming, financial advisory, accounting, and legal advice for primary production are also covered. Larger service providers also give support in direct marketing, whereas others are specialised in supporting small farms. Different target groups of extension services, e.g., small-scale farmers or new generations of independent farmers without ties to farmer-owned companies are addressed through advice and support (e.g., market information, market development, marketing, labelling etc.). The main bottleneck of the organic advisory system is the lack of public funding behind.