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Denmark - Country Report 2009

by Tomas Fibiger Norfelt, Danish Agricultural Advisory Service

Denmark is one of the leading countries in Europe on the field of organic agriculture. Even though the organic share of the total cultivated area has gone down it is still high in a European comparison with around six percent. Regarding the market, Denmark is a world-wide leader with a share of organic products of the total market of more than seven percent and an annual per-capita consumption of almost 140 Euros in 2009. 

The article below is from 2005; some of the statistics have already been updated. 

Agriculture in Denmark

Denmark is situated in the northern part of the European Union and is one of the Nordic and Scandinavian countries. It is a small country with a population of 5.3 million inhabitants.  

In 2000, primary agriculture, including fur farming and horticulture, employed 84,000 people, or 3 percent of the workforce. Although the part played by agriculture in the Danish economy overall has steadily fallen in step with industrialisation and economic developments as a whole, it is still an essential occupation based on its net foreign currency earning capacity, its effect on employment and its importance in supplying everyday foodstuffs. A further 100,000 persons are employed in industries downstream from primary production, most notably the food processing companies.

Denmark is a flat country with rich agricultural land situated in a temperate climate. Summers are generally warm with an average temperature of 16.4 degrees centigrade and freezing temperatures are seldom experienced in winter for prolonged periods. In total, 664 mm of rain fall evenly spread over the year.

2.7 million hectares or sixty-three percent of Denmark’s land area is cultivated farmland. Grain crops amount to over half of Denmark’s agricultural production with wheat, barley and rye being the most widespread. Roughage - beets and grass - are also grown. Two thirds of production is utilised as fodder for animals.

23 million pigs are produced in Denmark each year, three-quarters of these for export. This constitutes 7 percent of Denmark’s total annual export. From the beginning of the 1980s the production of pigs has risen by almost 50 percent to c. 1.8 million tonnes of pork in 2000. Over the same period milk production fell by 15 percent to 4.7 million tonnes, partly as a result of the European Union's introduction of milk quotas.

The area devoted to agriculture peaked in the 1930s with 3.2 million hectares under cultivation. A reduction in the area has occurred as agricultural land has been given over to urban development and recreational activities, especially since 1960. At the same time profound changes have taken place in farm structures.

 In the first half of the 20th century there were about 200,000 farms with an average area of 16 hectares, but after 1950 numbers began to decline slowly. From 1960 this trend accelerated, and during the 1960s an average of 5000 farms disappeared each year. In the 1970s and 1980s the decline levelled off to 2600 holdings a year, and in the 1990s to 2300 so that in 1999 the number of holdings had fallen to 58,000 with an average area of 46 hectares.

Self-ownership is a sustaining element of farming in Denmark. There are only few corporation-owned units and co-operatively owned farming units.

For more information on agriculture in Denmark

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Organic farming in Denmark

Denmark is one of the leading countries in Europe as regards the organic share of the total cultivated area. In 2008, there were in 2753 organic farms cultivating approx. 150,000 hectares (excluding land in the first year of conversion) corresponding to 5.5 percent of the total Danish farmland (for upated data please check the statistics at the homepage of the Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries).

The table shows that the number of authorised organic farms was fairly constant from 1991 to 1994. In 1995 there was a large increase of organic farms equalling a growth of 55 percent compared to 1994. In 1996 there was a minor increase of 116 farms equalling 11 percent. The net growth for 1997 to 1999 was about 39 percent per year. And from 1999 to 2001 net growth was 367, equalling 11.8 percent. Since 2003, the number of organic farms decreased, but the organic land area is on the rise again (see also the links related to Danish organic statistics).

More than three quarters of the land under organic agricultural use is arable land. A large share of this land is green fodder. There are 45'000 hectares of cerreals (2008). Permanet crops do not play a major role, they account for 0.7 percent of the organic agricultural land. Most of this is fruit and berries.

Substantial government support has led to increased organic production through area-based payments and further support schemes. In addition to heavy financial support to organic farmers, the Danish government also discouraged conventional farming by levying high taxes on products such as insecticides and pesticides.

All EU countries are subject to the same rules for converting a conventional farm into an organic one. However, in Denmark the whole farm must be converted, whereas in other EU countries it is possible only to convert part of the production.

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The development of organic farming in Denmark

Organic farming has its roots in alternative farming systems, and these systems have existed for many years both in Denmark and other countries around the world, questioning whether intensive agriculture, which uses artificial fertilisers and sprays to provide the greatest possible yield, is the best way to produce foods that promote human health. Furthermore agreeing that the impact of the production method on the surrounding environment should be included as a parameter of quality.

Roughly speaking the alternative systems have been significant in two periods in modern times. The first period was 1920-1940, and the second period was from 1960 and onwards.

In the 1920s Denmark experienced a widespread interest in natural living and natural foods, not least influenced by the biodynamic agricultural system from Germany. In 1936 The Biodynamic Association was established by influential landowners from the aristocracy.

The development of modern organic farming in Denmark can be divided into four periods.

  • 1960-1980: Organic pioneers emerge
  • 1981-1986: Limited Consumption
  • 1987-1992: Mass media and Politicians
  • 1992-2003: Organic commercial breakthrough

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1960-1980: Organic pioneers emerge

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s we experienced acute environmental degradation. In particular, nitrate and pesticides in drinking water, residues of pesticides and medicine in foods, eutrophication of marine and fresh water, and eutrophication and acidification of terrestrial ecosystems caused the environmental problems. For these problems agricultural production carried a major responsibility and organic farming seemed to offer a solution to some of these problems. This led pioneers in organic farming to start out - many of them being young townspeople with no experience in farming wanting to show how real sustainable (organic) farming should be practised. The new term "organic" farming was based to a greater extent on the farming principles of the Howard Balfour method and the organic biological system, rather than the biodynamic approach.

In organic plant production, emphasis was laid on the avoidance of all chemical pollution by forbidding the use of chemical sprays and artificial fertilisers. Organic farming does not exclude loss of nitrogen when organic animal manures and legumes are used. It was however a clear objective to avoid all forms of pollution from agricultural activities and to avoid excessive use of organic fertilisers, and an upper limit was set for the amount of animal manures that may be applied per hectare. All this was designed to limit the losses of nitrogen. Alongside the environmental debate, the intensification of animal production methods stimulated increased concern about the well being of animals in modern farm buildings. For this reason concern for animal welfare became an integral part of the objectives of organic farming. Within a few years all these concerns created the basis of the framework of the first Danish organic regulations.

The organic pioneers worked alongside approximately 100 biodynamic farmers at that time. The production and consumption of organic goods were in this period very modest - under one percent.

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1981-1986 - Limited Consumption

More organic farms were established, and the Danish organic movement was organised in 1981 with the foundation of the Danish Organisation for Organic Farming (LØJ). The organisation was made up of farmers, consumers and processors with its own growing and breeding regulations and an independent inspection. The set of rules was to a large degree inspired by the IFOAM basic standards.

The Danish Organic Agricultural College was founded in 1982 to educate organic farmers and is also in charge of continuing education for conventional farmers. In 1985 The Danish Family Farmers Association established a special organic advisory service, in co-operation with The National Association for Organic Farming and The Biodynamic Association. From 1987 the Danish Farmers´ Union also contributed to the advisory work.

In the spring of 1982 the first organic carrots were sold in the Coop Denmark supermarkets. The interest from consumers was very limited, and the development in the 1980s was slow. In January 1988 the best selling organic products were potatoes, carrots and celery root with a market share of more than ten percent of the total organic turnover. However the total turnover of organic fruit and vegetables was less than one percent of the total turnover of fruit and vegetables in Coop Denmark at that time.

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1987-1992: Mass media and politicians

In particular politicians and the mass media drove the development forward in this period. Danish parliament adopts the world’s first comprehensive legislation on organic farming in 1987, inspired by the story in the media about lobsters dying as a result of oxygen depletion in Danish costal waters (environmental concern).

An important step was the establishment of the Council on Organic Food and Agriculture in 1987. The council serves as a platform for consensus building on organic policies and has been a catalyst for initiatives in every area of the organic food production. It has representatives from the state, the organic farmers’ organisations and the conventional farmers’ organisations, the labour organisations, the processors, retail organisations and the consumers.

 The Danish State control-label, red Ø-label, was launched in 1990 strengthening the consumption of organic products, leading to more processors and retailers being interested in producing and selling organic products, and State control of organic production was established to give the consumer confidence with regard to the genuineness of products.

The organised sale of organic milk was initiated by the organic farmers themselves in 1988 through the establishment of organic dairy circles.

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1993-2003: Commercial breakthrough

1993 was the “Year Zero” in the sales of organic products in Denmark. Suddenly the market turned around with a massive increase in the production and sales of especially organic milk and eggs. 

The same year as general economical support for organic farming was established, the consumer prices in the biggest retail-store chain were lowered combined with an intensive marketing effort. A few figures illustrate the vastly positive effect: In the beginning of 1993 Coop Denmark sold weekly approx. 100'000 litres of organic milk. In the beginning of 1995 the sales were 350.000 litres weekly, and Coop Denmark could have found sale for minimum 200.000 litre more. Thus the demand increased in two years from 100.000 litres to more than 500'000 litres weekly.

In 1995 the Council on Organic Food and Agriculture developed an "Action plan for Organic Farming" with 65 recommendations to the Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fishery to encourage organic farming in Denmark. The Action plan I served as a base for much of the political work in the following years. It was followed by a second five year Action plan in 1999.


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Highlights - Organic production in Denmark

  • 1936 The Biodynamic Association and Demeter Association established.
  • 1972 International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) set up.  
  • 1981 The Danish Association of Organic Farming is founded and a number of specific rules are formulated. The association sets up its own inspectorate.
  • 1982 The first Danish organic agricultural college is set up in northern Jutland.
  • 1985 The first organic agricultural advisory service is set up.
  • 1987 The Danish parliament adopts the world’s first comprehensive legislation on organic farming. State inspection and certification scheme are introduced.
  • 1988 The first litre of organic milk is bottled at a small dairy.
  • 1990 Launch of a national campaign for organic agriculture.
  • 1993 The largest Danish supermarket chain, Coop Denmark, reduced prices by 15 to 20 percent on a large number of organic products. Boom in consumption.
  • 1993 General economical support for organic farming is introduced.
  • 1995 The Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries presents a comprehensive Action plan I designed to promote organic farming towards the year 2000.
  • 1996
    • The 11th IFOAM World Conference is held in Denmark;
    • The Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries introduces an increased support to plant producers;
    • The Danish Research Centre for Organic Farming is established, and the Organic research station Rugballegaard is established.
  • 1998 The number of organic farms more than triples over a five-year period.
  • 1999 Organic organisations establish co-operation in the Centre for Organic Agriculture. Action plan II is introduced.
  • 2001 Denmark hosts the European Organic Food and Farming Conference.

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Inspection and Labelling

The inspection and certification system

Denmark is exceptional in having an official set of regulations and a single unique symbol for organic products, and also in that the State undertakes inspections. In general Danes have great confidence in the state as a serious and neutral body of inspection and labelling.

The “Ø” label

The “Ø” label is an inspection label launched in 1990. The regulations associated with the Ø label are based on EU legislation - although Danish rules still apply.

Fundamentally the red Ø label signifies that the Danish authorities have carried out a control on the farms and work places that produce, process, package or label the goods in Denmark.  The red Ø-label shows that the latest preparation of the organic product has taken place in a Danish company under inspection of the public authorities. Therefore, the logo can be seen both on foods of Danish origin and on imported foods processed or packaged and labelled in Denmark.

Maintaining confidence in organic production is dependent on adherence to and strengthening of the Ø-label. The production standards on which the symbol is based must satisfy the standards of both consumers and organic producers as to respect for the environment, health, livestock, welfare etc.

Approximately 94 percent of the Danish consumers are familiar with the “Ø”-label. Intensive marketing has created awareness and established great confidence in the label in Denmark.  A study shows that 85 percent of the consumers do not trust foreign organic products without the Ø-label. The more distant the product is, the less confidence the consumers had.

The red Ø-label symbolises the organic origin; the crown in the middle symbolises the Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries. The red colour symbolises that the inspection is Danish – the Danish flag being red and white.

Regarding the EU organic logo, it is the long-term objective of the Danish authorities to support the implementation of the EU label.

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Domestic Sales

Until the beginning of the 1990s, most of the organic products in Denmark were sold at the farm gate, markets or from health-food shops. The situation is very different today where 80 percent of all organic products are sold in the supermarkets. One could describe the Danish market for organic foods as relatively mature, meaning that it does not suffer seriously from the supply shortages and barriers, which dominate most of the markets outside Denmark.

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To boost the domestic consumption the then Danish Minister of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, Mariann Fischer Boel, launched a nation-wide campaign to promote organic food products in Denmark in June 2003. A total of 5 million Danish Crowns was invested in the campaign.

Denmark has the largest per capita consumption of organic products within Europe. Important motives for buying organic products are concern for the environment and animal welfare but egotistical motives like own health and quality are increasingly important.

95 percent of the Danish consumers have purchased organic products at least once in 2002, and 89 percent at least twice. A large share of the Danish consumers is willing to pay a premium for an organic product (Gfk, ConsumerScan, 2002).

The typical Danish organic consumer is

  • Well-educated
  • Living in urban areas
  • Having children younger than seven years
  • Higher income, can afford to spend a larger part of budget on food
  • Older than 40 years
  • Being environment-conscious
  • Being health-conscious woman

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Export and Import

Both export and import of organic products has increased considerably during the 1990s according to Statistics Denmark (www.statbank.dk). Danish exporters experience that national regulation and certification making export difficult.

More than 13 percent of the Danish organic production is exported. Danish exports of organic food products totalled DKr 653 (88 million Euros) in 2008, compared to DKr 468m (62 million Euros) for 2007.

Meat and dairy products had earlier a larger share of the total volume, but other product types such as cereals, groceries, beverages and snacks are gaining importance.

The largest markets for Danish organic products were Germany, Sweden, United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Belgium  (representing 73 percent of the total Danish export of organic products).

According to the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries, the export of organic foods is in its infancy because organic producers' first priority is to satisfy the demand on the domestic market. As production rises, export opportunities will become more evident.

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Advisory system

Denmark has an extension system which is unique as it is owned and run by the farmers themselves. It is therefore impartial towards public authorities and private interests. The objective of providing advice is to improve economic, working and living conditions for farmers' families, but also to develop quality products and a greater consideration for ethics and the environment in agricultural production.

The extension service run by the Danish farmers' unions, Danish Agriculture, has two levels.

Regionally, there are approximately 60 agricultural centers advising the farmers on a direct basis. Today approx. 150 advisers (the equivalent of 50 full-time jobs) provide advice on organic farming. Besides providing organic farmer with the latest information, the organic advisers supply information to conventional farmers who are gradually being inspired by organic methods of production, e.g. the increasing use of clover and grass on dairy and arable farms.

The second layer in the extension service is the National Centre. Here specialists co-ordinate the advisory development. Within organic farming it is done by an internal group of 14 specialists representing the various professional fields. The organic specialists at the National Centre act as knowledge bank and supply local advisors with the latest information within specialized areas of agriculture, develop new computer software, conduct experiments and run surveys etc.


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Danish research in organic farming has increased considerably since 1995, but there is still a need for targeted research activities to help promote and develop organic farming.

Many of the concerns of farming today such as consideration of the environment and nature, animal welfare, product quality and health are all fundamental aspects of organic farming. The promotion of organic farming has been part of Danish government policy for several years. A major initiative in this respect has been the establishment of the Danish Research Centre for Organic Farming in 1996. The remit of DARCOF, today the International Centre for Research Organic Food Systems ICROFS (www.icrofs.org) is to initiate and co-ordinate Danish research in organic farming. The centre synthesises and communicates scientific information across traditional boundaries and disciplines.

Research concerning all aspects of organic farming and food processing has been initiated by and carried out by various Danish research institutions, e.g. The Danish Institute of Agricultural Sciences, National Environment Research Institute, Denmark, The Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, Technical University of Denmark, Danish Research Institute of Food Economics and Danish Agricultural Advisory Service, National Centre.

Under the auspices of DARCOF/ICROFS an open access archive, Organic Eprints (www.orgprints.org), for eprints related to organic agriculture has been established in 2002. Researchers and organisations are invited to join the archive.


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Denmark has the oldest organic agricultural college in Europe, The Organic Agricultural College. Twenty to thirty agricultural students graduate each year.

The Organic Agricultural College provides an education programme for those aspiring to become an organic farmer, and is particularly designed for young people from Europe. Organic Farmer is a two-year course focusing on both theoretical and practical experience, leaving the student with a fine knowledge-base with which to implement an organic farming career. The college is also conducting short courses for farmers who want to improve their knowledge, and occasionally it conducts courses for target groups like cooking organic food and construction of straw houses.

The Danish education as skilled farmer takes 4.5 years. The students join a college 3 times at a total of 13 months and have apprenticeship training on a farm for a total of 30 months. The students need to get the apprenticeship training at 3 different farms, and they can have apprenticeship training up to 6 months abroad.

Other agricultural colleges in Denmark offer organic courses and training. Besides agricultural colleges, agricultural advisers and farmers' associations offer many in-service courses for organic farmers. These are typically one to three days long and are in various fields of organic farming. The supply of these in-service courses is higher than the actual demand.


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The successful development in recent years in production and sales of organic products is to a large degree based on a consistent and fruitful co-operation between the many specialised organisations and agencies within Danish organic production and manufacturing.

Information on the organisations active in organic agriculture in Denmark - governmental organisations, non-governmental organisations and research and advisory service is available on a separate page.

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Consumers, politicians, companies and farmers are all looking for ways to secure a sustainable development in Denmark. Organic farming is playing a vital role in this context. The challenge is to:

  • Maintain the integrity and the quality of the organic products
  • Develop organic farming further
  • Inform the consumers about organic products
  • Get the political establishment to maintain focus on organic farming as an effective environmental tool and not just a market opportunity
  • Get conventional processors involved in the processing and promotion of organic products both home and abroad

Denmark has an excellent starting point due to high degree of innovation in farming, political and consumer attentiveness and market-oriented retail chains.

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Tomas Fibiger Norfelt
Information Officer
Danish Agricultural Advisory Service, National Centre
Tomas Fibiger Norfelt
Udkaersvej 15
8200 Arhus
Tel. +45 87 40 50 10
Fax +45 87 40 54 94
E-mail TFN@no-spam.landscentret.dk
Internet www.landscentret.dk

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Tomas Nørfelt Fibiger
Information Officer
Danish Agricultural Advisory Service, National Centre
Tomas Fibiger Norfelt
Udkaersvej 15
8200 Arhus
Tel. +45 87 40 50 10
Fax +45 87 40 54 94