Due to the aflatoxin affair that is still shaking Serbia, disappointed consumers of traditional products turn to buying organic milk and dairy products. In order for these products to be marked as organic, cows must feed exclusively on organic food, they must have enough space to dwell and walk, they must be taken out to pasture and receive no hormone treatment, and all products must be verified by a certification organization.
These are exactly the conditions existing at the Velvet farm in Curug, the only organic farm in the region. It is one of the largest farms of the kind in Europe featuring 970 milking cows giving between 15,000 and 17,000 tonnes of milk a day. Every month Imlek buys 500,000 tonnes of organic milk from this farm to process it into fresh milk, yogurt, UHT milk, white cheese and sour cream. These products represent the first portfolio of organic dairy products in Serbia as well as in the territory of former Yugoslavia.
According to Srdjan Popovic, marketing director at Imlek, the quantities of organic milk purchased from the Velvet farm are not enough.
- Market demand is huge and cannot be met with the existing capacity. Our plan is to also offer other organic products such as fruit yogurt and chocolate milk, but we cannot launch them until we secure additional quantities of raw organic milk - Popovic explained to eKapija.
As our interlocutor said, Imlek will be forced to import raw organic milk to expand production if it fails to find a domestic manufacturer.
Milos Milovanovic, assistant to the minister of agriculture, believes that it would be good to increase organic livestock production as a big generator of the development of other segments of agriculture.
- Development of organic agricultural production is a new direction to pursue. However, that sector calls for a lot of work - Milovanovic pointed out and added that farms should go through a long process of conversion taking between 3 and 4 years to complete in order to meet requirements and obtain certificates for organic production.
Our interlocutor noted that financial support to the organic production sector had been initiated in 2005, adding that RSD 200 million were earmarked in the 2013 budget of the Ministry of Agriculture for the development of organic agriculture, ten times as much as in 2011.
- All direct payments for organic production will be 40 percent higher than in the case of conventional agricultural production. For example, if the milk premium amounts to RSD 7 per liter and the premium per hectare of land for traditional production is RSD 12,000, the premium for organic milk will stand at RSD 9.8 per liter, whereas the premium for organic production will be RSD 15,600 per hectare – Milovanovic stressed.
Nada Miskovic, president of the Serbia Organica association, also claims that the supply of primary organic agricultural products in the domestic market is insufficient, adding that demand is huge.
- There are some organic products that are up to 10 times as expensive as conventional products, and they are still in shortage nevertheless. Although people's purchasing power is reduced, organic products have found their way to consumers through green markets, healthy food stores and "organic shelves" at supermarkets - Miskovic pointed in a talk with eKapija.
According to the data provided by the Serbia Organica association, organic production in Serbia currently takes place on an area of about 829,000 hectares, whereas the arable land used for organic production spans about 11,000 hectares.
Fruit production accounts for 46.36 percent, crop production for 41.31 percent, meadows and pastures for 7.57 percent, whereas vegetable production accounts for 4.77 percent of the area used for organic production.
In the summer 2009 the Ministry of Agriculture drafted a National Action Plan for Organic Production Development in Serbia, which is aimed at increasing the total area of land used for organic production to 50,000 hectares.
The results of a survey show that over 4,000 agricultural manufacturers are involved in organic production, with only 25 food processing companies processing organic products as well, whereas the total value of organic production in Serbia has not been precisely determined.