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Farm to Fork Strategy: A partial response to our farmers’ needs

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The European Commission’s Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy has pleased environmentalists, but that is not enough – we have to look at the big picture and address its economic and social impact as well, writes Hermann Tertsch....

There were few dissenting voices in May when the Commission published its Farm to Fork action plan to massively overhaul European farming. The F2F strategy got rave reviews from the green deal fanatics and followers of the new green religion.

But I have to be very clear. Neither me nor my party will follow or support their purely environmental perspective. Our responsibility is different, we need to look at the global picture assessing the broad economic and social impacts of all this Brussels-based green (planning and social engineering) production.

The COVID-19 crisis has shown that the EU cannot afford to endanger its own food production. In order to achieve productivity, competitiveness and environmentally friendly agriculture we need to revise our strategies taking into consideration the lessons learnt from the pandemic.

Are EU leaders ready to put in practice what they have learnt? Do they have the courage to react?

EU leaders seem unwilling to revise the green deal objectives or to introduce meaningful changes to the strategies drafted ahead of the unprecedented COVID-19 health crisis. But everybody should realise that these strategies are now extremely unrealistic and would ask for unacceptable sacrifices.

If farmers see the F2F as a threat instead of an opportunity, we will have lost time and precious resources in the so-called green transition.

In Spain and all across Europe, farmers see a very unbalanced strategy that puts the focus only on environment neglecting the role of farmers as food producers. Spanish farmers were struggling ahead of the pandemic hit by a severe market crisis, the situation has worsened and F2F is just a highly partial response to their needs.

If we do not give the right orientation to the strategy in the light of COVID-19, many farmers will give up and this will lead to more desertification and the abandonment of rural areas in Europe. Who will then protect the environment? The green activists? Greta Thunberg and friends?

To them, F2F has all the hallmarks of a plan concocted by people with big ideas but little practical knowledge. Take, for example, F2F’s mandate to reduce pesticides by 50% and to triple the amount of land farmed organically – from about 7.1% now to 25% by 2030.

Nowadays organic food is a good opportunity for the agriculture sector and it may be a viable option for farmers who can command a premium for their products. But organic food can not be the only model to promote sustainability in farming. We cannot opt for a single model of agriculture.

Conventional agriculture, as well as biotechnology, can perfectly coexist with the organic model to achieve agriculture sustainability.

In organic farming, average yields per hectare are about 30% lower than those of conventional farms although using more water, soil and energy. Are Europe’s farmers – many of whom are barely getting by today – supposed to somehow make it with a 30% cut in revenue? Or would Brussels advise them to simply raise the prices on the food they sell by 30%?

The cost of food may be a minor detail if you take most of your meals dining out on an expense account. But this will bust the budget of families already struggling to meet food costs. We hear a lot of talk about restructuring CAP payments to ease the transition for farmers, but to my knowledge, no one has seriously addressed F2F’s built-in food inflation.

Nor does it appear that the plan’s drafters gave much thought to the fact that farmers compete in a global market. Faced with escalating prices for domestic food, consumers will rapidly turn to lower-priced food from abroad. In this sense, F2F wasted opportunity to boost agriculture competitiveness giving farmers incentives to produce more and better.

I believe that our new Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski, who was himself raised on a farm, is aware of these problems and is ready to balance a debate which is currently far from the real needs of our farming community.

It is true that F2F was essentially a fait accompli by the time he assumed his position but the agriculture voice needs to be heard more than ever.

This Wednesday, I will be on a webinar panel with Commissioner Wojciechowski and US Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue discussing U.S. and EU strategies on food security. I would like innovation and trade to be part of the conversation. We need in Europe a realistic approach to these issues so often disturbed by too much ideology.

Fear-mongering from European NGOs against science, trade and innovation is undermining consumers trust. A close cooperation US- EU can help to better communicate and to fight misinformation about food and agriculture which is often present in the political and parliamentarian debate.

Europe must learn from the US experience that boosting research and innovation to increase productivity can have a very positive effect on farm income and environmental protection.

If Europe closes the door to plant breeding innovation, GMOs or precision farming i fear that agriculture productivity will continue to be a longstanding European taboo.

Trade is vital to Europe’s future, but our trade relations have rarely been so contentious.  There is a widespread assumption in Europe that trade only benefits a number of big multinationals. This is just an example of misinformation and fake news. Our small or organic farmers heavily rely on trade.

There is a need to continue removing trade barriers to boost bilateral trade with the US.

We are great and complementary trading partners who have the obligation to find a way to come together and to stop a tariff escalation that is hitting hard Spanish producers of wine, olive oil, olives, cheese, etc. A constructive dialogue between both partners is crucial to send the right message to American and European farmers.

Agriculture must be on the table of trade negotiations with the US. Despite all political opposition that is mounting here in the EU to trade agreements, the promotion of local and family farming cannot be done at the expenses of trade. A reinforce cooperation with the US will show that trade is part of the solution in view of the current pandemic.

Maybe it’s time for Brussels to lay off the grand strategies for a while and consider in this dramatic situation to start paying again attention to basic economics.