Farmers already produce secure, safe and stable food supplies for European citizens, said Copa President Padraig Walshe.
The sector employs nearly 30 million people in rural areas, while farmers and foresters manage over three-quarters of EU territory, he added.
However, "these huge public benefits are not remunerated by the market. They are assured by the CAP," he said after EU farm leaders had approved a position on reforming the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
To continue to provide such benefits and contribute to boosting growth and jobs and tackling climate change in the years to come, EU farmers and agricultural cooperatives believe "a strong CAP will be more essential than ever".
EU farm ministers first began to debate the CAP's post-2013 future back in 2008 (EurActiv 22/09/08), while more recently, EU Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Cioloş launched an EU-wide public debate on the issue (EurActiv 13/04/10)
Among the most contentious issues in the upcoming reform is whether or not to cut the CAP budget, which currently represents around 40% of total EU spending, and how to reform the direct payment system. The budget is a major source of tension between CAP supporters like France, and critics such as the UK and the Netherlands.
Walshe said farming income had severely deteriorated over the last decade due to bad market conditions and rising costs. Average farming incomes are now just 50% of those in other sectors, with two-thirds of farmers' earnings provided by direct payments under the CAP, he stressed.
Copa-Cogeca is calling for direct payments to farmers to be maintained and for the post-2013 CAP to be adjusted both to increase market stability for consumers and reinforce the role played by farmers in economic production. This can be done with "new tools to deal with market volatility and measures to reinforce farmers position in the food chain," it said.
EU-27 farm ministers agreed in January to work towards measures to ensure that all actors in the food supply chain, and particularly farmers, receive fair compensation for their work (EurActiv 19/01/10; EurActiv 26/03/10).
Copa-Cogeca's contribution to the public consultation on the 'Europe 2020' strategy stressed that "the cost of the CAP must be weighed against the huge benefits it brings". In addition, EU support for agriculture represents just 0.4% of GDP, while the contribution of agriculture to the EU economy represents 3.4% of GDP, the paper noted.
The farmers' lobby thinks that "with the right incentives, farmers could provide more rural services, including protecting natural habitats, maintaining biodiversity, flood prevention, improving groundwater storage capacity and fire resilience".
The comments come as the potential of agriculture to mitigate climate change and deliver various other environmental benefits, such as improved soil and water quality, is being increasingly recognised.
The European Commission is planning to make direct support for farmers subject to the delivery of diverse "public goods," such as biodiversity or sustainable farming practices (EurActiv 26/01/10; EurActiv 28/01/10).