The countdown to the removal of the derogations for eco seeds has started and Vitalis is encouraging the transition with transparency as its driving force.
The EC has started up the machinery for its most ambitious strategy to obtain greener agriculture. However, it has left a crucial topic in hand of the member countries: the ‘germ’ of it all: the seed. From the 31st of December, 2035 all ecological production must compulsorily be carried out using 100% ecological seeds. A date that seems a long way ahead, but really is just around the corner. Will the sector be ready by then? Prudencio Olivares, Manager at Enza Zaden in Spain and Marketing Manager for Southern Europe and Northern Africa, warns that, if a serious plan is not undertaken by the Public Administration and the chain of value, we could get caught out. And the fact is that, today, between 95-96% of derogations are being issued that allow the use of conventional untreated seeds for eco crops.
“Clients must get ready, along with the suppliers… and information transparency and responsibility to consumers are essential.” And the fact is that – and here he points out an aspect that could be a problem sooner rather than later, our neighbouring countries are already implementing this transition and the retailers are starting to demand products that are eco from seed. The question is not a trivial one. “When consumers buy an eco product, what are they buying? When does it become eco? Why does a German supermarket sell 100% eco cucumbers and the Spanish produce, also eco, is produced with untreated, conventional seeds? The same rules must be agreed on for everyone so that we are not caught out. It could be perceived as unfair competition. In Germany, they are very demanding.”
Currently, Germany, Holland, France and Belgium are ahead in the use of 100% ecological seeds in Europe. Products as important as red California peppers now can only be grown with eco seeds in Germany and France. And we should mention, France has brought forward the compulsory use of eco seeds in loose tomato crops to the 1st of January, 2025. These are just a few examples, but they should be used to ensure that the sector in Spain pulls its socks up.
Why is this process so slow? One of the reasons that many farmers give is the price, which is higher than for conventional seeds. A barrier that will be eliminated when the offer and demand increase. “Producing ecological seeds is much more expensive and it is not easy. The protocols and certificates are expensive; they have to be carried out in areas free from certain pathogens… and getting good quality is very expensive, many seeds are discarded,” Prudencio Olivares explains.
At Vitalis, a subsidiary of Enza Zaden, which is completely devoted to the development and production of ecological seeds, they know this well. They started their journey in 1994 with an ambitious project covering research, production and marketing. They look for varieties “with the mind of an ecologist”, which may be used in this type of crops, where they have to make the plants themselves work against certain virus-transmitting vectors and, for example, the crops must be able to live with lower levels of phosphorous.
Vitalis’ offer includes over 200 eco varieties available in Spain and 500 around the world. “Our complete portfolio is available, and it is complex.” In Vitalis’ case, profitability is possible thanks to the support infrastructure represented by Enza. “In Spain, ecological seeds make up between 5-10% of our total sales, but in other countries such as France, this figure is over 30% and in the USA it is slightly below 30%.” Currently, Vitalis’ invoicing is growing at just over 10% every year.
In our country, the most popular references are for tomato, Dutch and easyQ cucumber and pepper (California in Cartagena and Tribelli in Almeria) seeds. Courgettes are beginning to become important and the Hokkaido pumpkin (red) – in a segment where they are leaders – is rising in an “exponential way; every year we are doubling sales in Europe, and in Spain more so because the original base is lower. The supermarkets are asking for eco pumpkins.” They are also committed to the development of non-CMS cauliflowers.
Regulation evolution (CUADRO)
- EC Regulation Nº 834/2007: It bans the use of genetically modified products, also valid for products from outside the EU. Only ecological seeds allowed for the production of ecological vegetables.
- EC Regulation Nº 889/2008, article 45: it defines the reasons for the derogation (or authorisation) of the use of seeds or propagation material not obtained using ecological production methods. This article is interpreted differently by each member state.
- (EU) Regulation 2018/848 of the 30/05/2018: after the 31/12/2035 no further derogations for the use of seeds that are not treated ecologically will be allowed. Compulsory use of ecological seeds.