Commission considers easing rules on crop rotation to grow more wheat

Speaking during a press conference following the meeting, EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said he was open to the idea, adding that the Commission is currently analysing the suggestion, although no definite decisions have been made yet. [European Union]

The European Commission is open to a German proposal to delay new EU rules on crop rotation in order to increase wheat production in the light of the Ukraine war, after the idea won approval from a number of member states.

Earlier this month, German agriculture minister Cem Özdemir called on the EU to temporarily push back the new rules on crop rotation, originally set to come into force from 2023 as part of the bloc’s reformed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), by one year in order to up wheat production in the face of Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

This would mean that farmers who grew wheat on a field this year could grow wheat on the same piece of land again in the coming season, allowing more space for grain production.

The idea was presented to EU agriculture ministers for the first time on Tuesday (24 May) during a meeting in Brussels.

Speaking during a press conference following the meeting, EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said he was open to the idea, adding that the Commission is currently analysing the suggestion, although no definite decisions have been made yet.

“I think this should be considered in a situation where [this] would allow those [specially-needed] crops to grow,” he said, specifically referencing wheat.

Despite the fact that the Commissioner conceded that, from an agronomic perspective, it is not a desirable situation to grow the same crops on the same land in the next growing season, he said that “if we need to increase production, that should be allowed”.

“Food security is at stake, not in Europe, but we’re talking about disruption of supply chains of grain to some regions of the world, like North Africa or the Middle East. So we really need to think over a whole range of possible actions to be taken,” he said.

The Commissioner also stated that the idea is supported by a majority of member states.

“We didn’t really hear voices, criticism against what we’re doing – a lot of member states emphasise[d] that this is exactly what needs to be done in this crisis situation,” he said.

However, sources inside the closed discussion told EURACTIV that the idea was in fact supported by only 8 member states. These include Czechia, Croatia, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Austria and Sweden, the source said.

The source added that Germany took pains during Tuesday’s meeting to stress that this should be a temporary measure that should not extend past 2023, emphasising that this should not put the EU’s long term environmental goals into question.

Meanwhile, no other member states pushed for an extension of this timeline, the source told EURACTIV.

Germany lobbies EU to suspend crop rotation rules

German Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir is lobbying the European Commission to postpone a new regulation on crop rotation so that farmers can grow more wheat in view of the war in Ukraine. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The proposal to push the new rules back by one year is meant to “strengthen global supply without worsening other crises like the climate catastrophe and biodiversity loss,” Özdemir explained in a statement on Wednesday.

He called the proposal a “pragmatic solution,” but said the decision to push for this step had not been an easy one. “To be fully honest, we also have to say that there are good reasons for crop rotation,” the statement acknowledged.

The German minister’s proposal had been criticised for example by environmental campaigners for disavowing the important role diverse crop rotations play in strengthening the resilience of agricultural soil.

Calling the proposal “misplaced”, Celia Nyssens of the European Environmental Bureau previously told EURACTIV that crop rotations are “crucial for pest management and soil protection so this will have negative impacts”.

From Özdemir’s perspective, however, easing crop rotation rules is the better alternative to the Commission’s proposal that member states should allow production on fallow lands and would “considerably facilitate farmers’ current cultivation plans and the implementation of EU agricultural subsidies in 2023, without having any significant negative impacts on climate protection or biodiversity.”

[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Nathalie Weatherald]

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