The Estonian Chamber of Agriculture and Commerce suggests sharp price hikes are seeing private consumers, as well as schools and kindergartens move away from organic food.
Starting from this fall, Estonia has additional funding for schools and kindergartens that offer children organic food, using at least 20 percent of ingredients from organic farming.
Weekly Maaleht suggests there are around 50 childcare institutions that meet the criterion. The aim of the instrument is to make sure at least 25 percent of children have access to organic food at school or kindergarten in the coming years. While institutions have started to take a greater interest in organic food, there is now a shortage of local produce.
Mirjam Pikkmets, deputy chair of the Estonian Chamber of Agriculture and Commerce, said that production has become markedly more expensive also in the organic sector, which this summer's drought did not help.
"While we can joke around in terms of organic producers not being concerned with the price of fertilizer, all production input prices have gone up also for organic producers. While everyone had enough seeds and the fields were sown in spring, we had a drought this year. Harvests greatly depended on one's location: it didn't rain for two straight months in western Estonia. This has hurt more than a few organic producers that might be forced to buy animal feed if they did not manage to produce enough of it themselves. Spring will tell how well our organic producers will have coped," Pikkmets suggested.
She added that a vicious circle has been created where education providers need local organic produce to offer kids the healthier option, while not enough is available or prices are too high for educators.
"Support made available to schools and kindergartens so they could prefer organic food has been of help. Producers whose retail sales are down can compensate by selling to nurseries and schools. But while it is nice, the support sum per student already falls short."
Pikkmets added that ordinary consumers also have less money for organic Estonian foods.
Brita Siimon, head of organic foods for Rimi Eesti Food AS, said that just like all food products, organic has become more expensive. While the share of organic produce had been growing steadily for years at Rimi, it's headed down this fall.
Rivo Veski, head of communication for the Selver chain of supermarkets, said that shoppers who buy organic tend to be highly loyal, adding that time will tell whether price advance will change that. Veski said that organic products make up 3 percent of Selver's selection.
The supermarkets are aware of organic producers' difficult situation. Brita Siimon said that as long as products remain profitable, shops will not be quick to drop them, even if sales volume is falling.
Editor: Marcus Turovski