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Country report - Estonia 2009

For latest report see here.

by Airi Vetemaa and Merit Milkk

In Estonia, organic land has expanded by more than ten times since 2000, but processing and marketing have not kept up with this growth. The Estonian Organic Farming Action Plan 2007–2013 and the Estonian Rural Development Plan 2007–2013 will contribute to the expansion of the organic sector in Estonia.

The information presented at this page is based on the broshure Organic Farming in Estonia 2009 (906.5 KB), published by the Estonian Ministry of Agriculture.

The article below reflects the status of organic farming in Estonia in 2009. For latest updates please consult the latest edition of "Organic farming in Estoina", see right margin. 

Development of organic farming and key institutions

The development of Estonian organic farming began 20 years ago in 1989 when the Estonian Biodynamic Association was founded. The Association used the IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements) standards to work out the first Estonian organic agriculture standards. It started to use the trademark „ÖKO“ and to control the producers.

In 1992 the regional organisation South-East Estonian Bios was established. Later it acted also as control body. In the beginning of the 1990s several local organic organizations were founded (in Võru, Saare, Lääne and Viljandi County).

In the middle of the 1990s the development slowed down somewhat.

The year of 1997, when the first Estonian Organic Farming Act came into force, can be seen as the beginning of a new phase of development. The Centre for Ecological Engineering started actively organizing educational events, published informational brochures and brought to life development projects.

In 2000 the Estonian Organic Farming Foundation was created and has been very active in developing organic farming. The Agri-Environment Bureau was founded by the Ministry of Agriculture in 2000. The bureau was responsible for the oversight of organic farming. From 2004 the Organic Agriculture Bureau of Plant Health Department assumed oversight responsibilities.

The first organic producers cooperative was founded in 2003, called Eesti Maheliha (Estonian Organic Meat). As the name suggests, the initial aim of the cooperative was to bring into the marketplace local organic meat products. This aim has been realized in 2008. In the course of time the union’s vision widened and they started to include other food groups (grain products, vegetables and fruit, milk). With a current membership of nearly 100, the organization has been renamed Eesti Mahe (Estonian Organic) in 2007.

Recent years have seen the creation of several new local production organisations – in Saare, Hiiu, Harju and Pärnu County. In July 2006, eight organic farming organisations founded the Estonian Organic Farming Platform, the main aim of which is to develop organic farming sector. All the active Estonian organic farming organisations took part in founding the platform: the Estonian Biodynamic Association, the Estonian Organic Meat, the Estonian Organic Farming Foundation, Harju Organic Farmer’s Association, Hiiu Organic, Läänemaa Organic Farmers’ Society, Saare Organic and the Centre for Ecological Engineering. The newly founded Pärnu Organic joined the platform in 2007. In 2009 two other new organizations joined: South-Estonian Food Network and Research Centre of Organic Farming, Estonian University of Life Sciences.

The Estonian Organic Farming Foundation and The Estonian Biodynamic Association are also members of international organic farming organization IFOAM. The first of them represents Estonia in the IFOAM EU Group.

Information about organic farming can be found from many sources. With the support of the Ministry of Agriculture and the European Union several publications about organic production and marketing have been published, mainly put together by the Estonian Organic Farming Foundation and the Centre for Ecological Engineering.

The latter organisation has also been publishing a quarterly organic magazine „Mahepõllumajanduse leht“ since 1996, recently with the support of the Ministry of Agriculture. In 2009, the 50th issue of the magazine was published. Organic producers are offered free courses. For those who apply for organic farming support money it is mandatory to take part in the course.

Producers can reach out for help from organic advisors, but unfortunately there are no advisers for processors.

Very little scientific research has been conducted in the organic arena in Estonia. The few studies that exist have been carried out by the Agricultural Research Centre, the Estonian University of Life Sciences, the Jõgeva Plant Breeding Institute and the Estonian Research Institute of Agriculture.


Statistical development

Organic production has grown rapidly (see figures below), one of the reasons being the financial support given per organic hectare since the year 2000. By 2009, organic land (approximately 100'000 hectares) was more than 10 percent of all agricultural land in use, with 1277 organic producers. In addition about 36'000 hectares of natural areas were certified. The size of organic farmland has expanded from year to year, to an average area of 80 hectares. Four Estonia’s largest organic farms have over 1000 hectares of land.

The largest number of organic producers is in Võru County, but the largest amount of organic land is in Saaremaa. Organic farming is also widespread in Tartu, Viljandi, Pärnu, Hiiu and Lääne County (see maps below). In Hiiu County nearly two third of all agricultural land is organic. In comparison to plant and animal production, the organic processing and marketing development has been modest. In 2009 the organic farming register had total of 49 organic processors and traders.

Organic products reach consumers mostly via direct sales and specialist organic shops; a few products are on sale in conventional stores. Consumer interest to purchase organic food has increased considerably. The areas of organic processing and marketing will undoubtedly develop soon, making organic food much more widely available, and this is a main aim of the Organic Farming Action Plan 2007–2013.


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Organic plant production

In 2008 there were 87 347 ha of organic agricultural land in Estonia. In 2009 organic land has increased 18% to 102 775 ha, out of which 76 625 ha (75%) had gone through the conversion period.

As characteristic of organic agriculture, large areas were grassland (close to 80%). This is not unique to Estonia and is found in many countries.

10 568 ha were covered by organic grains, showing a growth of 3 times in five years (compared to 2004). The most popular crop was oats (about half of total grain area), which was mostly grown for animal feed. Food grain production is also growing. Demand for spelt wheat is increasing; it was grown in 134 ha.

The area covered by industrial crops (mostly oil seed rape) enlarged almost nine times in five years. At the same time the amount of organic industrial crops grown is still very small – in 2009 it was only 392 ha.

Unfortunately, organic vegetable growing has not expanded, and the current quantity and selection of vegetables is not enough to meet the consumer demand. Small yields and the large amount of handwork required are significant factors.

In comparison to 2004 the area where potatoes were grown has even slightly decreased.

The most popular fruits grown are apples (198 ha). Plums and cherries are grown as well. It is worth noting that among berries the area of organic sea-buckthorn has increased more than ten times in five years (490 ha in 2009). Organic sea-buckthorn products are already for sale.

Herbs, berries and mushrooms are also picked from uncultivated natural areas. 19 enterprises had 35 658 ha of natural areas under inspection in 2009.

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Organic Animal husbandry

Nearly two thirds of organic farmers in Estonia keep animals. Foremost are sheep (39'374 animals in 2009) and cattle (21'074 animals). Latterly the numbers of those species have grown; other species have stayed about the same. The largest number of organically reared animals is in Saare County followed by Valga, Võru and Hiiu County. It is remarkable that about one third of all sheep in Estonia are organic. There were 80 enterprises with more than 100 sheep in 2009. The largest number of organic sheep is kept in Saare and Valga County. The largest herd had more than 4000 sheep.

The suckler cows were kept organically by 286 farmers. There were 47 farms with herds of 30 or more suckler cows; the two largest herds had 130 suckler cows each. The three counties with the largest numbers of suckler cows are: Hiiu County (644), Võru County (626) and Lääne County (587). All together there were 13 698 beef cattle animals in 2009.

Usually, the organic dairy farms are small. The largest herds had 205 milking cows, apart from this there are three more herds with over 100 cows in them. There were only 37 farms that kept more than 20 cows. All together, 219 farms had cows, this number as well as number of milking cows has decreased in recent years.

Comparing counties we see that Viljandi County was leading with 548 cows, followed by Saare County (451) and Pärnu County (400). Several dairy cattle farmers are planning or are in the process of changing over to beef farming.

Other animals are kept in quite a small numbers (table 2). The poultry and pigs are kept mostly for own consumption. Only a few farmers sell organic eggs although the demand is high. The popularity of keeping rabbits is on rise, their number increased more than three times in 2009.

The number of organic beehives increased 52% compared to 2008. 20 bee-keepers have in total 465 hives, the largest ones have more than 80 hives.

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Processing of organic food

In 2009, there were 49 registered organic processing and marketing enterprises in Estonia, 35 of them were food processors. About half of food processors produced organic as well as conventional products. 100% organic food processing (where no conventional food processing occurs) is carried out mostly on the organic farms.

A shortage of organic food processors is one of the main reasons why local organic food is not more available. Large industries often find the available quantities of organic raw ingredients to be too small, the logistics too expensive and the combination of the two types of industry (organic and conventional) too complicated.

Many organic farmers have an interest in the small-scale processing of what they are growing themselves, but often it turns out that the investment needed to get started is disproportionate to the possible turnover. A shortage of support funding and specific knowledge of small-scale processing set up is among the hindering factors. Recently several processing trainings have been organised to improve this situation.

Finally the number of organic processors has started to increase.

About ten new enterprises entered into the organic farming register in 2009 and there are more to come.

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Organic food in the marketplace

The selection of local organic food in the marketplace is still lacking variety, but it is growing from year to year. According to the study of the Estonian Institute Economic Research, in 2008 the turnover of Estonian organic products increased by 50 percent compared to 2007. The growth is based not only on increased number of organic processors and extended choice of processed products, but also on increased sales through the shops and higher prices.

The majority of the products are not processed. Fresh produce like fruit and vegetables, berries, potatoes, honey and milk are the most common. There are some producers of bakery products, grain produce, cottage cheese, yoghurt and cheese, beef and lamb meat and meat products, jams, juice, pasta and dried herbal blends.

Organic food is for sale in several organic and health-shops in Tallinn, Tartu, Haapsalu, Rapla, Kuressaare, Pärnu, Viljandi and elsewhere. Some of them offer home delivery service. Organic food is finding its way to the shelves of conventional food stores also. For example, small selections can be found at Tallinn & Tartu Kaubamaja, Stockmann and also at Rimi, Selver, ETK (incl. Maksimarkets) and Maxima chain-stores. Farmers can be found selling their products on the marketplaces of the major cities. In the city of Tartu, organic farm products from Võru and Põlva County are available through e-mail orders. A similar system has been recently launched in Pärnu.

In fact, a large percentage of organic produce is sold directly from farms to surrounding clients. Producers’ contact details are available from the Organic Farming Register at www.pma.agri.ee.

Organic producers have been jointly visiting fairs and events over the last couple of years.

Despite the widening market opportunities for organic food and a growing interest from consumers, the majority of products (nearly all milk and almost all meat) are sold as conventional food to processing industries. This is due to a shortage of organic processing companies.


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Legal acts

The basic rules of organic farming are uniform in all European Union member states. From January 1st, 2009 the new EU Organic Farming Regulations (EC) No 834/2007 and (EC) No 889/2008 came into effect. The main purpose for updating it was to verbalize the most important principles of organic farming more clearly and comprehensively while at the same time allowing greater flexibility than the current regulation for taking into account local conditions.

On the national level organic farming is regulated by the Estonian Organic Farming Act and ordinances associated with it. Extensive EU organic regulation provides detailed rules for production, processing, marketing, control and labelling. Estonian legal acts mainly specify control and labelling.

Organic aquaculture is regulated by (EC) 710/2009. When relevant amendments are added to the Estonian regulation in 2010, organic fish farming will be possible in Estonia.

Reference to the EU regulations an Estonian Legal Acts, and also general organic farming information can be found on the Ministry of Agriculture’s website www.agri.ee and from the Agriculture Board’s website www.pma.agri.ee.


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Organic farming has strict inspection system. Depending on the country inspection system is operated by private bodies or state authorities. Organic farming in Estonia started with private standards and control bodies: the Estonian Biodynamic Association (from 1990) and South-East Estonian Bios (from 1995). In 1999–2000, under state supervision, the same organisations inspected farms according to the requirements of the Organic Farming Act.

Following this, the state’s inspection system was implemented in 2001 and the supervision of organic farm production was made the responsibility of the Plant Production Inspectorate, while food and feed processing, and marketing (including importing) became the responsibility of the Veterinary and Food Board.

From 1st January 2010, the Plant Production Inspectorate is being merged with newly established Agricultural Board.

The basis for certification is an application submitted either to the Agricultural Board or the Veterinary and Food Board. An approved enterprise will be entered into the organic farming register. An applicant wishing to register as an organic grower must supply relevant documents to the local bureau of the Agricultural Board between 10 March – 10 April. Applications to the Agricultural Board for the following can be entered year round: animal husbandry (in which case organic growing must have been approved already), mushroom growing, greenhouse production, and preparation/sale of organic seeds and propagation materials. To the Veterinary and Food Board the applications for approval can be submitted year round.

Companies previously registered are checked at least once a year. When a violation of the requirements is discovered, a precept may be issued, or a fine imposed, the requirement to start a new conversion period may be enforced, or a decision to revoke approval may be taken.

Organic farmers have to pay state fees for certification and the yearly control inspection. Every year the control authorities provide documentary evidence to operators listing the range of their products.

The list of organic enterprises is located on the Agricultural Board’s website www.pma.agri.ee.

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Organic products

Organic food and animal feed is labelled with the Estonian or EU organic logo. In addition (or instead of) the label the organic product can bear the Estonian terms „ökoloogiline“(often used in the form of the prefix „öko-“) and „mahe“, which are both legally acceptable terms in Estonian for „organic“.

Labelled products must originate from organic land or organic animals.

The organic farming label (logo) can be used for processed products where at least 95% by weight of the ingredients of agricultural origin are organic and only these non-organic ingredients are used that are listed in the regulation (EC) No 889/2008 annex VI.

Products containing organic ingredients

For processed products where less than 95% of ingredients are from organic farming it is not allowed to use organic logo or make reference to organic farming in the sales description but only in the list of ingredients.

In-conversion products of plant origin

Food produced from in-conversion crops shall contain only one crop ingredient of agricultural origin. A conversion period of at least 12 months before the harvest has been complied with.

Products that claim to be from organic farming always have to have the producer’s contact information and the name or code of the inspection authority. From 01.01.2010, there are new codes:

  • Agricultural Board: EE-ÖKO-01
  • Veterinary and Food Board: EE-ÖKO-02

Until 01.01.2012 the products bearing earlier codes of Plant Production Inspectorate (EE-TTI) and Veterinary and Food Board (EE-VTA) can be sold on the market.

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Organic farming action plan

The preparation of the Organic Farming Action Plan was initiated by Estonian Organic Farming Foundation. The proposal for this plan was prepared in cooperation with organic organisations, the Ministry of Agriculture and other stakeholders. The final version was compiled by the Ministry.

On May 9th 2007 the Estonian Ministry of Agriculture endorsed the Organic Farming Action Plan 2007–2013 and the plan for its implementation.

The strategic aim of this plan is to increase the competitiveness of organic farming and the number of products in the marketplace, making a variety of local organic food more easily available to the consumer.

The intention is to develop the organic agricultural area of 72 800 hectares (2006) to 120'000 hectares by 2013, to grow from 1173 active organic farms (2006) to 2000 by 2013, to enlarge the number of organic processing facilities from 14 (2006) to 75 (2013) and to increase the percentage of Estonian grown organic products in the domestic market from 0.15 percent (2006) to 3 percent by 2013.

To meet these goals measures are planned according to six groups: producing; processing; marketing; training, advisory services and distribution of information; research and development; legislation and control.

The Ministry of Agriculture is responsible for implementation of the Action Plan and evaluates its success. The Action Plan can be amended as needed. The Organic Farming Action Plan can be found on the Ministry of Agriculture website www.agri.ee.

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Organic farming support

Organic farming support has been paid in Estonia yearly from 2000. Since joining the EU in 2004, the basis for the distribution of support money has been the agri-environment support of the Rural Development Plan. 80% of the support money is covered by European Union and 20% is covered by the Estonian government. By applying for support the applicant assumes the duty to continue organic farming for at least five years.

The objectives of the support for organic production:

  • to maintain and increase biological and landscape diversity and to maintain and improve soil fertility and water quality;
  • to support the development of organic farming and to contribute to the increase in the volume of organic products;
  • to support and improve the competitiveness of organic farming.

The support payments for organic production are granted in 3 groups, considering the crop grown. Payment rates in 2009:

  • cereals, legumes, technical crops, potatoes and fodder roots; black fallow; grassland used as cover crop of up to 2 years; grassland used for grass seed production – 119,20 EUR per hectare, annually;
  • open area vegetables, medicinal herbs and aromatic herbs (must be listed in the annex of the regulation of support payments), fruit crops and berries – 349,60 EUR per hectare, annually;
  • in the case of grasslands (except when the grassland is used as up to 2-year cover crop) if at least 0,2 LU per hectare of organically kept animals are kept – 88,84 EUR per hectare, annually;
  • grazed animals, when data is included in the organic farming register after on-site inspection – 31,96 EUR per unit.

Support can be applied per average number of poultry, pigs, rabbits and beehives kept in year preceding submission of the support application. Payment rates in 2009:

  • if in average per year at least 50 birds from relevant species (turkeys, geese, ducks, broilers or laying hens over 6 months) were kept in the enterprise – 6.39 EUR per bird;
  • if in average per year a number of pigs corresponding to at least 2 units were kept in the enterprise – 210.91 EUR per sow or brood pig and 127.82 EUR per at least 2 months old fattening pig;
  • if in average per year at least 50 rabbits older than 4 months were kept in the enterprise, 6,39 EUR per rabbit;
  • if in average per year at least 5 beehives were kept in the enterprise, 31,96 EUR per hive.

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Some vocational schools and the Estonian University of Life Sciences offer organic farming courses, but it is not possible to obtain a degree in organic farming or to specialize in organic farming.

Organic producers are offered basic and additional training courses ordered by the Ministry of Agriculture and financed from RDP. For those farmers who apply for organic farming support it is mandatory during the first year to take part in a 2-days basic training course. In addition, all farmers applying for organic farming support during the 5-year contract period have to participate in 2 additional days of training courses. Beside training related to organic production, it is possible to choose training related to processing and marketing. In addition to the courses ordered by the Ministry of Agriculture, there are also other financial resources used for organizing training, e.g. some organizations have used RDP Measure 1.1 resources for this.

Most of the training programs have been organised by the Estonian Organic Farming Foundation and the Estonian University of Life Sciences, but other organic farming organizations, research institutes and county level advisory centres have also organised some.

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Advisory work

A specialised organic farming advisory system does not exist in Estonia. Advisors on organic farming are mostly self-employed persons and are related to county level advisory centres.

There are less than 10 advisors who give advice in organic farming. Most of them are not specialized only to organic farming, and give advice also in issues related to conventional farming. Quite a few organic farmers have reached out for help from organic advisors.

There are no organic processing advisors.

The Estonian Rural Development Plan includes a supportmeasure for advisory services. In the case of using a certified advisor, it is possible to apply for special support from ARIB. Support covers up to 80% of eligible expenses of an advisory service but not more than 1278 EUR a year.


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Scientific research

Organic farming research has been conducted in Estonia only for a short time and there are still few studies. The Agricultural Research Centre, the Estonian University of Life Sciences, theJõgeva Plant Breeding Institute and the Estonian Research Institute of Agriculture, have all conducted studies.

  • Jõgeva Plant Breeding Institute has studied the spring cereal varieties and agro technology in comparison with conventional farming, since 2004. In 2009 trials with winter wheat and rape were launched and organic crop rotations were implasearch Centre started with organic crop rotation trials in 2003. There are three different crop rotations, two of them for a cereal production farm and one for an animal husbandry farm. Different techniques, fertilisation, sowing times, etc, and their influence to the yield and quality are studied.
  • Estonian University of Life Sciences (EULS) has a comparative trial of organic and conventional crop rotation. The effect of organic fertilizers and the possibilities to use different leguminous plants as green manures for improvement of soil fertility are studied.
    In animal husbandry during the last two years the study on suitable fodder ratios for milking cows and the comparative study on organic and conventional milk quality has been implemented.
    • The Organic Farming Research Centre of EULS established in 2009 the long-term test fields for vegetables and field crops to compare organic and conventional production, the impact on the soil and product quality. Also on-farm trials of different fertilizers and a trial about the effect of plant preparations to grapes have started.
    • In the Polli Horticultural Research Centre of EULS permanent crops trials have been established. The varieties of strawberries, black currant, sweet cherry, plum and apple are studied. There are trials on effects of different growing technologies, incl. the usage of mulches and different bases to yield quality. In the experimental kitchen organic producers can develop new products.
  • The Estonian Research Institute of Agriculture is conducting a study of 5-year crop rotation since 2007. Effects of organic farming under different fertilization regimes compared to conventional farming on soil fertility and soil organisms and the yield and quality of crops are studied.


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Addreses related to organic farming in Europe including Estonia are available at the Organic Europe address database where they can be searched by keyword and category.

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Airi Vetemaa
Estonian Organic Farming Foundation
51005 Tartu
E-mail airi.vetemaa@no-spam.gmail.com
Internet www.maheklubi.ee


Merit Mikk
Centre of Ecological Engineering - Ökoloogiliste Tehnoloogiate Keskus
Fr. Tuglase 1-6
51014 Tartu
Tel.: +372 7 422 051
Fax: +372 7 422 746

Broshure 2013

Data 2012

Organic farming in Estonia 2012 (641.0 KB): Country report in the publication "Organic in Europe"

Broshure 2011

Broshure 2009

Broshure 2008