The EU Commissioner for Agriculture, Janusz Wojciechowski, highlighted the promotion of organic farming as a key aim for the new European Commission in his inaugural speech yesterday (10 December).
Access to land for young farmers and a focus on transport issues were other highlights of the Commissioner’s speech at the EU Agricultural Outlook conference on Tuesday.
The conference is a key annual gathering of European stakeholders, designed to engage and discuss the future of agriculture in Europe and the challenges which lie ahead.
Wojciechowski highlighted a particular focus on supporting organic practices, saying that he wants to decrease intensive farming, including a reduction in the intensive use of pesticides and fertilisers.
He said that this involves the creation of an appropriate “offensive” action plan, which will be implemented within the next year.
He added that this will involve a contribution to the EU “Farm to Fork strategy”, looking at how organic production can help the agri-food sector improve its sustainability across the agri-food supply chain.
He said the way to do this must be with “carrots, rather than sticks”, indicating that the CAP must be used to incentivise best practices.
According to Wojciechowski, there are more than 12 million hectares of organic production in the EU across 200,000 farms, but the production and uptake of organic food differ considerably between member states, with rates of consumption of organic produce varying between 10% and 0.5% across the EU.
He highlighted that organic agriculture is currently “difficult to obtain” for many people and that price is often a considerable constraint for consumers.
Asked by EURACTIV, Wojciechowski said that “consumption is the main barrier to the development of organic in Europe” and that this problem lies in the market, especially involving issues regarding how to sell organic products.
He added the solution to this lies in the second pillar of the CAP, which he said should have an “instrument for intervention to support organic farming” which not only includes farmers but also extends to consumers and the promotion of organic food.
Grant young people access to land
Access to land for young farmers was another key focus of Wojciechowski’s speech, where he emphasised that young farmers are not adequately supported and incentivised to stay in the profession and take up the “difficult challenges associated with farming”.
Lack of access to affordable land for new farmers is widely recognised as the largest obstacle to new farming entrants, with more than half of Europe’s farmland managed by farmers over the age of 55, and nearly a third by farmers over 65. In contrast, only 6% of the total land area is managed by farmers under 35.
A Commission source recently told EURACTIV that attracting young people into the sector and helping them establish themselves as viable businesses is one of the main priorities of the CAP post-2020.
Soy import, a problem?
Wojciechowski also highlighted transport as a major issue, noting that much of our imports for feedstock and animals involve long transport routes.
He said the Commission would focus on reducing the distance between farm and fork, increasing Europe’s self-reliance in the process.
In this regard, he cited a controversial example of 36 million tonnes of soybeans imported into the EU from the Americas each year.
However, reducing the scale of long-distance transporting of feed or agricultural products starting from American soybeans clashes, in principle, with the trade policy put in place by the previous European Commission.
In July 2018, former Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker agreed to import more soybeans from the US in order to put the dispute on steel and aluminium tariffs behind and opening negotiations to strengthen trade relations.
At the beginning of this year, the Commission authorised the import of soybeans also for producing biofuels, coming to the US’s rescue after trade tensions with China, where soybean exports from the US were dropped to zero in the previous months.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic and Frédéric Simon]