The European Commission presented its Farm to Fork strategy, the agricultural contribution to the European Green Deal. Part of this strategy is a strong reduction of the use of fertilizers, restricted crop protection application and the increase of the percentage of ecological farming. These plans are too ambitious according to different groups and companies in the European food production chain.
“The Farm to Fork strategy target is too ambitious in the proposed timeframe given achievable farm practices”, states the European fertilizer sector, united in the organisation Fertilizers Europe, in response to the presented ideas by the European Commission. Reducing nutrient losses can best be done by increasing nutrient use efficiency and setting up nutrient management plans as well as development and uptake of on-farm precise fertilisation techniques. “Half the global food production is based on the use of mineral fertilizers. Therefore the sector plays a vital role in ensuring a resilient European agriculture and in providing EU citizens with affordable and nutritious food”, states the European fertilizer sector.
The European fertilizer industry accepts the challenge to reduce environmental impact of nutrients put forward by the Commission in the Farm to Fork strategy, but doesn’t agree with the timeframe given. “Furthermore, the proposed level of ambition will need to be matched by an adequate level of support”, says Jacob Hansen, Director General of Fertilizers Europe.
Hansen emphasises it is important that the policy-makers recognise the difference in nutrient losses across the EU. “The ‘one-fits-all’ approach will not work. Instead, Europe must work with Member States to adopt a regional approach, identifying nutrient pollution problem areas and putting forward targeted actions to address nutrient excess according to local circumstances.”
The recent COVID-19 outbreak has highlighted the importance of a resilient farming and food industry in Europe. Health and Safety commissioner Stella Kyriakides of the European Commission states: “Farm to Fork offers an opportunity to strengthen the European food production system even more and make it more robust and sustainable.” She agrees farmers will need support to enable them to make the necessary transition, but also stresses these new plans offer European farmers an opportunity to be in the lead. “The new strategy is an opportunity for the European food sector and all partners in the supply chain. We need to look at the present system and take our chances now.”
Commissioner Janusz Wojeciechowski of Agriculture also underlines the importance to support farmers to make the necessary transition. “For this we need enough financial support.” The commissioner therefor doesn’t agree with some countries that wish to reduce the agricultural budgets for the next period. “Our budgets need to be in agreement with the ambitions of the commission in such a way that we can work with farmers instead of against them.”
The European policy has to be translated to the national levels. The goals of reductions of fertiliser, crop protection and antibiotics are European goals. “Fine tuning on national levels is necessary”, agree representatives of the commission in a online press conference.
They agree there is a high ambition level and a potential risk as farmers will be able to use less inputs to protect their harvest. “This will potentially reduce cost of production but also increase the risk of a lower harvest. We therefor have to increase the knowledge base of European farmers in how they can maintain high crop yields with less pesticides and fertilisers, as we believe this can be achieved”, according to representatives of the commission.
Not all responsibility should be on the plate of farmers, state the representatives. “European consumers should also be educated and learn about the consequences of their food choices. This can also greatly stimulate the agricultural sector in the desired direction.”
Agrifirm, one of the Dutch based feed companies, underlines the direction in which the ambitions within the Farm to Fork strategy point. However, the company has some question marks with regards to the mentioned percentages and the way these goals are going to be reached. “First and fore most it is important that the farmer earns an income. If he/she doesn’t, there won’t be a possibility to run a business. The three p’s people, planet, profit need to be in place, without one of them the targets set for the future will not be feasible”, says Ruud Tijssens, responsible for the Agrifirm CSR policy. According to him the Farm to Farm strategy doesn’t take this into account as much as it should do to be successful in the long run.