Agrifood Brief: Money does grow on trees

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40 - Fit for 55, carbon farming & Slovenian Presidency

This week:  The EURACTIV agrifood team speaks about the Fit for 55, the European Commission’s package of energy and climate laws designed to cut carbon emissions by 55% before the end of the decade, and its implications for the agri-food sector, and we talk about the agricultural priorities for the Slovenian Presidency

During a press conference as part of the unveiling of the EU’s Fit for 55 package, which includes the new EU’s forest strategy 2030, one of the journalists asked – but where exactly are we going to put all these trees?

It’s a fair question, given that the EU’s new forest strategy aims to plant an extra 3 billion trees.

But the phrasing betrayed a kind of absolutist attitude, as if trees cannot be integrated into our cities and lives. As if we need to find vast swathes of empty land solely for trees.

The reality, of course, doesn’t have to be that black and white, but rather many shades of green.

What I’m talking about here is the marriage of forestry and agriculture – or, as it’s known, agroforestry.

Agroforestry can be defined as the integration of woody vegetation, crops and/or livestock on the same area of land, either by planting trees on agricultural land or introducing agriculture into existing woodland or orchards.

Seen as a “win-win” solution in terms of both economy and ecology, as well as the more obvious benefits of growing trees on farmland, such as producing timber and tree crops, agroforestation also carries considerable environmental benefits.

This includes contributing to flood protection, carbon capture and storage, regeneration of soils and biodiversity.

There are currently around 20 million hectares of agroforestry in the EU, according to EU agroforestry association EURAF, who estimates that close to 90% of the European grassland area could include silvopasture practices, which integrate trees, forage, and pasture, and that more than 99% of the European arable land would be suitable for silvoarable practices.

In short, there is tree-mendous (ahem) potential for integrating trees into our farming systems.

But will the idea take root?

The potential of agroforestry was highlighted by EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski during the press conferences this week.

Calling the link between the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and forest strategy “very important”, he championed agroforestry as an instrument to contribute to the forestry targets, highlighting that the new CAP will allow member states to support carbon farming and agroforestry via the new eco schemes instruments, as well as rural development measures.

“When designing their interventions, member states can take into account the specific needs and opportunities of their forestry sectors, but they must also match the larger ambitions of the strategy as agreed,” he said.

Historically, the uptake of CAP funding for trees has been low, as Environment Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius noted during a press conference this week.

This can be put down to a reluctance to plant trees over fears that farmers will dip out on CAP subsidies, stemming from a limitation of tree density to 100 trees per hectare in the current CAP.

This has made farmers wary of establishing, promoting and using agroforestry practices.

According to Commissioner Sinkevičius, the new CAP offers “increased flexibility to design forest-related interventions according to national needs.”

The question is, will the combination of this new climate package and the CAP reform be enough to encourage farmers to branch out?

In particular, much is being made of member states’ national strategic plans as a vehicle to promote agroforestry practices across the EU.

“The Commission will ensure that strategic plans are assessed against robust climate and environmental criteria. These plans should lead to the use of sustainable practices, such as precision agriculture, organic farming, agro-ecology, agro-forestry and stricter animal welfare standards,” the communication on the Green Deal reads.

But, despite the promise of agroforestry in contributing to many of the Commission’s flagship policies, EURAF points out that the term is completely missing from the Commission’s recommendations to 16 member states.

Meanwhile, it’s sibling ‘agroecology’ is also missing from 21 national recommendations, despite also being a keyword used in the Green Deal.

It remains unclear how the Commission can expect member states to take up agroforestry practices in their national plans if it does not appear in the majority of the recommendations.

Time will tell if nice words will be translated into tree-planting action. But it would (or wood) be a missed opportunity for the EU’s farming sector.

(N.F.)

Agrifood news this week

Slovenian agri minister: Climate change just as unpredictable as COVID pandemic

Although agri-food sector has recovered from the worst of the pandemic, it must keep one eye on the present and one on future crisis management, Slovenia’s Agriculture Minister Jože Podgoršek told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.

EU sets the scene for carbon removal actions in farming

A new carbon removal approach in agriculture will contribute to stepping up Europe’s climate ambition, the European Commission reiterated at the launch of its massive plan to cut carbon emissions by 55% before the end of the decade. Gerardo Fortuna has more.

Stakeholders split over EU food promotional funding for meat, exports

Stakeholders remain divided on promotional support for target markets and animal products, with NGOs calling for meat to be cut off cold turkey, while farmers argue no products should be off the table for funding. Julia Dahm has the details.

Food labelling proposal will be data-led, Commission says

Information on the sustainability of food products in the EU’s forthcoming harmonised front-of-pack labelling will heavily rely on data collected by producers, an EU official has said. Other stakeholders were quick to point out, however, that the environmental element is only one factor in the complex labelling process. Gerardo Fortuna has more.

‘Audience-first’ approach needed to boost public trust in science, say experts

The wider population’s trust in the the scientific community when it comes to food issues remains low and institutions must adopt an ‘audience-first’ approach to help change that, experts have warned. Learn more.

CAP corner

Young famers: The youth branch of small farmers association European coordination via campesina (ECVC) released a position document on the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) this week where they expressed their opinions, concerns and proposals for the reformed CAP and its application at the national level.

News from the bubble

EU-US relations: On Monday, the US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack met virtually with the European Parliament’s AGRI Committee to discuss how to foster EU-US relations. Chair of the AGRI Committee Norbert Lins said in a statement that he was “thankful” for Vilsack’s attendance, calling it a “fruitful discussion on our renewed transatlantic relations, the impact of trade on our agricultural sectors and the challenges for our farmers”. “I am convinced that strong EU-US cooperation does not only benefit farmers on both sides, but it also encourages to find ways in jointly tackling the challenging topic of climate change,” he said.

More meat, more trade: The OECD and FAO joined forces to produce an agricultural outlook for 2021–2030, published this week. The outlook report is designed to provide an annual assessment of the prospects for the coming decade of national, regional and global agricultural commodity markets. Among other things, it found that growth in global consumption of meat proteins over the next decade is projected to increase by 14% by 2030 compared to the base period average of 2018-2020, driven largely by income and population growth. It also highlighted the role of trade as particularly important for resource-constrained countries, which are highly dependent on the import of basic and high-value food commodities.

Flooding support: After the severe flooding this week which severely impacted several EU countries, including the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, President of EU farmers association COPA, Christiane Lambert, tweeted: “The promises of [French President] Macron and [French Prime Minister] Jean Castex must be kept: “Our farmers can’t pay for insurance on their own. It will take public funding to create a totally new system. We can’t say the nation wants to be sovereign…if we don’t resist the climate”

Urban farming: The UN’s food branch, the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), published a handbook this week designed to provide practical guidance for any city wishing to adopt and implement a monitoring framework of its urban food policy. The guidance sets out practical steps, simple tools, top tips, and a methodology that other cities can follow.

African Swine Fever: The European Food Safety Agency (EFSA) expanded its campaign on African Swine Fever (ASF) to a further nine countries, including Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia, Estonia, Hungary and Romania. Nikolaus Kriz, head of EFSA’s animal and plant health unit, said that the organisation is working “tirelessly” to produce assessments and make recommendations that can help countries threatened by ASF to protect their animals and their economies. “Last year we decided to take our science out into the field and show that EFSA is committed to helping farmers and others who are living in the shadow of this terrible disease. The campaign was well received in the first wave of countries and now we are going further afield with our message to detect, prevent and report,” he said.

Agrifood news from the Capitals

BELGIUM
Belgium’s ailing pig farming sector welcomed the news the embargos on Belgian pork for some of the countries which had banned imports after citing concerns regarding African Swine Fever (ASF) were lifted this week, according to the Brussels Times. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

SPAIN
The Spanish government and the autonomous communities decided this week to advance in the technical negotiation of the eco-schemes before reaching a political agreement on the application of the Common Agricultural Policy in Spain. EURACTIV’s partner EFEAgro has more.

ITALY
The Italian lower house approved a new aid package envisaged to support sectors most hit by the pandemic with non-repayable grants. “The measure allocates over €2 billion for agriculture with concrete measures ranging from taxation to work, female and people entrepreneurship, from the revival of livestock to agritourism to compensation for bad weather to the sugar sector,” commented Ettore Prandini, president of Italy’s farming association Colidretti. (Gerardo Fortuna | EURACTIV.com)

FRANCE
In an address to the nation on Monday evening (12 July), French president Emmanuel Macron expressed his wish to see France become a great farming nation again in the years to come. “During the sanitary crisis, we have experienced the consequences of dependency”, Macron said, urging to “regain French and European independence” in the research, innovation and industrial, but also agricultural sector. The French head of state announced the disclosure of an investment plan later this year to “build the France of 2030” and support the emergence of the “champions of tomorrow” that will “design our future” in these strategic domains. (Magdalena Pistorius | EURACTIV.FR)

GERMANY 

The German government has presented its forest report on the condition and development of national forest stands on Wednesday, 14 July. Between 2017 and 2021, forests have suffered significantly from weather events like storms, drought and hot weather, as well as from bark beetle infestations, according to the report. The paper also details measures taken by the government to remedy the damages. During the last four years, Germany spent €1.5 million on support for the forestry sector. “We need financial support and the commitment of private and municipal forest owners to manage the current forest diebacks and to reach the long-term national goal of climate-stable forests, as well as national climate targets,” agriculture and forestry minister Julia Klöckner said during the presentation. (Julia Dahm | EURACTIV.de)

UK

England released it’s National Food Strategy this week, which was commissioned by the government back in 2019 as a tool to help direct policy iniatives. Among other recommendations, the report suggests that sugar and salt should be taxed and vegetables prescribed by the National Health Service. While British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was not in favour of extra taxes, he said he would study the report and promised the government would respond with proposals for future laws within six months. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com)

IRELAND

The quality of just under half of Ireland’s lakes and rivers was deemed to be unsatisfactory, according to a new report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this week. Nitrogen levels were found to be too high in almost half of Irish rivers and a quarter of groundwaters. Irish farmers associations welcomed the report, saying that while it shows that more attention must be devoted to this issue. But they added that while challenges remain for water quality, it is important to recognise the various initiatives being taken at individual farm level to improve the situation. (Natasha Foote | EURACTIV.com).

Events

19 July – There is an AGRIFISH Council meeting, where ministers will be asked to approve the Council’s conclusions on the EU’s organic action plan and the European Commission will brief ministers about trade issues related to the agricultural market. The Slovenian delegation will also present the work programme for its presidency term, which started on 1 July and will last until 31 December. More information about the Presidency’s objectives can be found in this exclusive EURACTIV interview.

20-23 July – The European assocaition of agricultural economists will hold an event on how to foster discussion on multidisciplinarity, stakeholder engagement and novel approaches to agricultural economics. More details here.

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