EU agriculture chief Janusz Wojciechowski has promised to do his best to place carbon farming front and centre of member states’ Common agriculture policy (CAP) strategic plans amid concerns that nice words will not translate into action.
Highlighting that carbon farming is a key priority of the French presidency, the Commissioner stressed its importance for European farming’s future during a meeting of Parliament’s agriculture committee (AGRI) on Monday (10 January).
“We need to work together to increase this direction of development of European agriculture,” he said, calling it a “good opportunity” for farmers to have additional source revenue in the future.
Carbon farming – a new buzzword in agriculture – aims to increase the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) stored in the soil, reducing its presence in the atmosphere.
This is achieved using various agricultural methods ranging from crop rotation, cover crops, and reduced tillage to precision nitrogen application.
There is currently no targeted policy tool to significantly incentivise carbon removals and the protection of carbon stocks.
To address this, the European Commission’s new communication on sustainable carbon cycles, published back in December, sets out actions to support carbon farming and upscale the business model to reward land managers for carbon sequestration and biodiversity protection.
The Commission will also propose an EU regulatory framework for the certification of carbon removals by the end of 2022.
But the communication received a lukewarm response from the farming sector, while NGOs blasted it for letting real polluters off the hook.
While MEPs welcomed the Commissioner’s strong focus on carbon farming, a number took to the floor to push on how this will translate in practice.
For example, leftist MEP Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan asked whether the Commissioner would consider making carbon farming a dedicated measure in the CAP strategic plans.
Through these plans, EU countries will set out how they intend to meet the nine EU-wide objectives of the CAP reform while at the same time responding to the needs of their farmers and rural communities.
Meanwhile, fellow Irish MEP Colm Markey queried whether the Commission would consider a separate income stream or structure specifically for carbon farming to ensure that farmers are not left in a situation where they are obliged to do more work for the same money.
His concerns echo that of Pekka Pesonen, general-secretary of EU farmers’ association COPA-COGECA, who told EURACTIV back in November that while the Commission’s initiatives on carbon removals could become an additional source of income for farmers, it could “easily become a financial and administrative burden for them”.
This runs the risk of increasing their costs, reducing their productivity, and lowering their incomes, he warned at the time.
In response, the Commissioner promised to “endeavour to ensure that carbon farming, to an extent as large as possible, will be incorporated in [CAP] strategic plans.” However, he conceded that it presents a challenge.
He added assurances that the EU “will not have a situation where farmers will have to do more for the same money” but that instead insisted there is “a chance that the situation will be the opposite”.
“Farmers will be rewarded for good practices for which they have not been rewarded so far,” he said, promising that there will be way for an “alternative to industrial farming”.
[Edited by Alice Taylor]