With the EU's future farm policy expected to have an increased focus on protecting biodiversity, promoting sustainable farming and achieving CO2 reduction goals, organic farming may be worth a closer look, EU officials said.
"There is a growing interest in organic farming, particularly in the context of talks on ecosystem services," said Ladislav Miko, director at the European Commission's environment directorate, addressing a seminar on the role of organic farming in combating climate change on 20 April.
His comments come as the EU is preparing a major overhaul of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for the post-2013 era, in a bid to tap into the increasingly recognised potential of agriculture to mitigate climate change and deliver various other environmental benefits, such as improved soil and water quality (EURACTIV 26/01/10; EURACTIV 28/01/10).
A Commission staff working document accompanying the 2004 EU action plan on organic farming underlines that its main benefits include the protection of soil, nature, biodiversity and habitats. Restricted use of pesticides also improves water quality, it notes.
According to the EU executive, only 4% of EU farmland is currently used by organic farming. However, in some countries organic farming covers up to 15-20%.
Anna Barnett from the Commission's environment directorate stressed that the focus should be on reducing pollution from the 96% of farm land currently used for conventional farming. She noted that 50% of France's drinking water, for example, needs to be cleaned of pesticides before it is fit to drink.
"We also need more money for rural development measures, for organic farming as well as fairer distribution of payments," Barnett said.
Importance of soil quality
"The EU needs to do something on soil," Miko continued, echoing Environment Commissioner Janez Poto?nik's pledge to get member states to acknowledge the need for EU action on soil (EURACTIV 16/03/10). Land management increasingly affects cross-border issues like climate change, biodiversity and water pollution, he argued.
The EU executive has already noted that European farmers must slash agricultural greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20% by 2020, primarily by producing biomass and storing carbon dioxide in the soil (EURACTIV 16/09/09).
Miko stressed that the land covered by agriculture in the EU is so huge that any small shift towards more sustainable farming practices per hectare would significantly increase overall carbon capture and "make a huge difference".
Better habitat management by farms, like for organic farming, would increase the resilience of farming systems and thus help adaptation to climate change, he added.