Stephen Cadogan: Major re-shaping of EU agriculture policy proposed

EU Agriculture Commissioner, Phil Hogan

Will there be big changes in the next version of the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP), from 2020?

One would have to say yes, because things can’t go on the way they are.

As EU Agriculture Commissioner, Phil Hogan has overseen about €1.5bn of bail-outs for struggling farmers, especially in the dairy and pig sectors.

At the same time, there has been continued reduction of the number of EU farms and farm employment; growth of monocultures with considerable environmental impacts; and food quality is increasingly questioned by EU consumers.

Meanwhile, a third of Europeans believe the EU is not adequately protecting the environment.

The CAP billions still largely go to large, intensive farming practices, which increases not only social inequalities, but also environmental problems, monocultures and rural desertification. 

And long-term trends for rural employment, farming incomes, and major environmental indicators for soil quality and biodiversity are all unfavourable.

On the plus side, European agricultural policy has increased productivity tremendously and made the EU a large exporter of food.

But the European Political Strategy Centre has reported back to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker that current agricultural policies cannot deliver sustainable food systems.

The report by Senior Advisor Karl Falkenberg at Juncker’s behest urges the Commission President in an unexpected direction — to go after significant employment opportunities offered by EU agriculture, if it is organised in a less industrial fashion.

It’s a major rethink, partly inspired by French research that has shown a €200/hectare better result in grain production, by halving both nitrate fertiliser and herbicide use.

However, much of the better result is in the form of extra natural pollinators in a more diversified landscape. The report values the economic value of insect pollination at €14bn per year in the EU).

Juncker has been told by his Senior Advisor that more labour-intensive EU farming could help create additional rural employment, and is more sustainable.

It’s a sobering proposal for the big machinery and chemical companies who sell to EU farmers.

Shifting EU money away from direct payments linked to acreage, towards rural development, could help bring about the change, according to this long awaited report by the European Political Strategy Centre.

It has big ideas on how to advance the EU’s “sustainability” branding, which may well fit into Juncker’s big ambitions for the EU.

Deliberations about the CAP after 2020 are under way, and it would be no surprise if Juncker steers talks towards this proposed “less industrial” farming which puts people, environment and profit on equal footings, suggested in Falkenberg’s “A European Vision for Sustainability”.

The 30-page document questions the implementation of and the effectiveness of environmental requirements in the existing CAP.

Its recipe to maintain jobs, restore biodiversity, and improve water and soil preservation will go down well in countries like Germany, where much of the groundwater has excessive nitrates linked to farming, and in the Netherlands, where dairy farmers may have to cut cow numbers because of phosphate pollution.

And across much of the EU, anything would be better than the current state of affairs for dairy farmers suffering through two years of reduced prices, pig farmers also enduring a long loss-making period, and livestock farmers hit by reduced incomes, especially in the continental member states.

Those looking forward to a mechanised EU agriculture of precision farming will be sorely disappointed by the report to the Commission.

Instead, it goes in the opposite direction, favouring agro-ecology, with more localised sales, and methods such as agro-forestry, so farmers will be less economically dependent on external input.


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