Bulgarian farmers fear Green Deal will lower their incomes

Bulgarian farmers [Dnevnik/Tzvetelina Belutova]

Bulgarian farmers forecast weaker yields, with lower quality, and hence lower incomes, as a result of the new green policies of the EU. At the heart of their concerns is the significant reduction in the use of pesticides and fertilizers by 2030, writes EURACTIV Bulgaria.

Bulgarian farmers are pessimistic that the European Commission will be able to offer bio-substitutes for chemicals that are as effective against pests and continue to ensure optimal harvesting quickly.

Currently, manufacturers rely on pesticides. Representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture commented that they are aware of the concerns and said that Bulgaria will stand for the additional EU subsidies for all farmers who use sustainable agriculture practices and reduce the use of chemicals in the fields.

Why is Brussels reducing pesticides?

The reduction of chemicals is enshrined in the new EU agricultural strategy “Farm to fork”. It is part of the European Green Deal, which creates policies to achieve the Commission’s goal of a climate-neutral economy by 2050.

“The use of chemical pesticides in agriculture causes soil, water and air pollution, as well as biodiversity loss and can harm plants, insects, birds, mammals and amphibians,” the strategy reads.

In order to curb these practices, the Commission aims to reduce the use of chemicals by 50% by 2030, as well as fertilizers by at least 20 percent.

At the same time, the strategy aims to place pesticides containing biologically active substances on the market. The cumbersome procedures through which new substances are currently being approved should be reduced.

“Agricultural practices that reduce pesticide use will be of significant importance and the strategic plans should reflect this transition and promote free access to consultations,” the document reads.

The mentioned strategic plans will cover the period from 2021 to 2027. Each EU member needs to pledge and defend its policies and financial support schemes before the EC, through which it will stimulate the farmers to fulfill the EU goals.

Representatives of the Bulgarian Ministry of Agriculture told EURACTIV.bg that by the end of 2020 the Commission will give Bulgaria recommendations for the reduction of pesticide use. Farmers have received guarantees that there will be financial incentives for them to achieve the new goal.

After receiving the recommendations from the Commission and information on the specific national goals for reducing the use of pesticides, an analysis on the socio-economic effects of achieving the goals of the Green Deal will be performed.

Thus, it has been made clear that in addition of training funding on pesticide reduction, farmers will also receive additional subsidies. They may take the form of direct financial aid or indirect aid in the form of purchases of products from the EU Intervention Agency at a price higher than the market one.

Farmers’ worries

Despite promises of bio-alternatives to pesticides and preserving farmers’ incomes, Bulgarian farmers are already worried about their livelihoods.

“Expectations for lower yields and poorer harvest quality are justified if the use of pesticides is sharply reduced in the next 10 years. For the time being, there is simply no alternative to chemicals. The procedures for approval of biological alternatives will take years and it is debatable whether they will be as effective against diseases and pests”, commented Kostadin Kostadinov, Chairman of the National Association of Grain Producers.

Grain is the leading agricultural crop in Bulgaria, as it is being produced in over 80% of the fields in the country. Kotadinov predicts that the new substitutes will be significantly more expensive. He underlined the fact that the use permit for many pesticides is expiring soon, and the new ones that will replace them, are up to 10 times more expensive even though they are not biological.

Kostadinov claims that the heavy use of pesticides in Bulgaria is a myth.

“The use of pesticides and fertilizers in Bulgaria is below the EU average. Reducing their use by 50% means that the country would be uncompetitive in the common EU market. The rules should take this into account and the reduction of pesticides and fertilizers should be less than 50% in Bulgaria, and more than 50% in countries where they are massively used”, commented Assoc. Prof. Bozhidar Ivanov, Director of the Institute of Agricultural Economics.

Ivanov is also the lead author of “Analysis of the state of agriculture and the food chain”. This is the key analysis which the Bulgarian government relies on to formulate its new agriculture priorities and policies in the period from 2021 to 2027.

According to the document, the total amount of pesticides sold in the EU in 2017 is 320 million tons, and the share of chemicals sold in Bulgaria equates to 1% of this amount. In comparison, the figures show 20% for France and 19% for Spain. In total, 70% of all sales are held by France, Spain, Germany, and Italy use 70% of all pesticides. This is also due to the big percent of utilized agricultural land in those countries.

However, the data shows that between 2012 and 2017 the share of purchased herbicides (weed killing treatment) increased significantly – by 120%, of insecticides (insects and other pests control) by 350%, and fungicides (plant diseases control) by 171%. However, farmers say there is no rise in pesticide use.

“In addition, there is no guarantee that all fertilizers and pesticides bought in Bulgaria are used here. Bulgaria is a border country and some of the sales are intended for third countries”, Kostadinov commented.

Bulgarian scientists: EU goals are in the right direction

“The new EU policy is not to be underestimated and is in the right direction. There are other possibilities through which crops could be made more sustainable naturally”, said Prof. Ivan Kiryakov from Dobrudzha Agricultural Institute.

He underlined the importance of an integrated pest management, which is successfully implemented in the UK, Hungary, and Poland. This is achieved through the so-called crop rotation. The practice ensures that the soils are naturally strengthened.

Other steps in the right direction are quick detection and diseased plant disposal through adequate monitoring. Chemicals should be used when absolutely necessary. Their use should be selective for affected areas. Last but not least, the use of different kinds of crops should be carefully analyzed.

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