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Reversion from organic to conventional agriculture: A review

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 May 2012

Henriette Sahm*
Universität Kassel, Fachgebiet Agrar- und Lebensmittelmarketing, Steinstraße 19, 37213 Witzenhausen, Germany.
Jürn Sanders
Institut für Betriebswirtschaft, Johann Heinrich von Thünen-Institut (vTI), Bundesallee 50, 38116 Braunschweig, Germany.
Hiltrud Nieberg
Institut für Betriebswirtschaft, Johann Heinrich von Thünen-Institut (vTI), Bundesallee 50, 38116 Braunschweig, Germany.
Gesine Behrens
Land und Markt, Heckscherstraße 28, 20253 Hamburg, Germany.
Heike Kuhnert
Land und Markt, Heckscherstraße 28, 20253 Hamburg, Germany.
Renate Strohm
RS Landkonzept, Dorfstr. 25, Zempow, Germany.
Ulrich Hamm
Universität Kassel, Fachgebiet Agrar- und Lebensmittelmarketing, Steinstraße 19, 37213 Witzenhausen, Germany.
*Corresponding author:


Over the past 10 years, the organic sector has expanded continuously in Europe due to policy support and a growing market demand for organic products. In line with this development, many farmers converted to organic farming each year. Nevertheless, the total number of organic farms has not increased constantly in Europe. In several countries, the absolute number of organic farms actually decreased in some years of the past decade. Some of the deregistered farmers gave up completely; others reverted to conventional agriculture. Against this background, this article aims (i) to give an overview of the extent of reversion to conventional agriculture in Europe based on statistics, (ii) to conceptualize the decision to revert in the form of a theoretical model, (iii) to compare farmers’ reasons to revert to conventional farming based on existing studies, and (iv) to identify further research needs. The importance of reversions to conventional agriculture is difficult to determine with the existing data, especially as in most cases it is not recorded as to what happened to the farms after deregistering from organic certification. The data nevertheless show that there are large fluctuations in the organic sector with many farmers entering and exiting each year. In order to reveal the farmers’ reasons for deregistering, various qualitative as well as quantitative surveys have been carried out already. For most farmers, the decision to revert is a result of different factors. Reasons for the reversion of their farms can be classified into economic motives, difficulties regarding certification and control, problems with organic production techniques as well as the farms’ macro environment. In most cases, however, economic reasons played a main role. Suggestions for organic legislation bodies, advisory services and policy makers are derived out of the findings. A deeper understanding of the influencing aspects regarding reversions and the necessary changes in the organic sector to avoid them should be an important objective of forthcoming research.

Review Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012 

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