New German arable strategy fails to impress environmentalists, organic farmers

French agriculture

According to international environmental NGO WWF, it is all just "symbolic politics". Instead of working together with the environment ministry, as was foreseen, the food, agriculture and consumer protection ministry presented its arable farming strategy on its own.

This article is part of our special report Germany’s roadmap for greener CAP subsidies.

Although Germany’s annual harvest and arable farming report was revised at the end of August to take account of the climate crisis, it still includes changes that remain just ‘symbolic politics’ for environmentalist NGOs and organic farmers. EURACTIV Germany reports.

With the floods, a cold surge, and extreme hot and cold weather, 2021 will go down in the history books as a “special storm year”, according to the federal agriculture ministry.

In this year’s harvest report, there are warnings about a significantly worse harvest than expected, and, as a result of higher grain prices, an increase in feed costs for German farmers.

“The 2021 harvest report shows how dramatically German agriculture is already affected by the climate crisis,” the international NGO WWF has said. The report makes it equally clear that “German agricultural policy in recent years has been too inconsistent and urgently needs to be realigned,” it added.

The reform of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) had offered the rare opportunity to create better framework conditions for this reorientation and “make climate protection an integral part of agriculture” – an opportunity that German Agriculture Minister Julia Klöckner has, however, missed, in the view of the WWF.

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2035 arable farming strategy: a departure towards ‘greener’ agriculture?

The national arable farming strategy 2035, which Klöckner presented at the end of August, is intended to provide a further opportunity for reorientation.

According to the federal food, agriculture and consumer protection ministry, “in times of climate change, this strategy is intended to show options and paths that sustainable […] arable farming must use”.

The political orientation of the strategy paper was “decisively influenced by the European Green Deal as the new growth strategy of the European Commission,” it added.

“Within the CAP’s framework, the federal government is committed to rewarding more strongly the achievements of agriculture in protecting the environment, biodiversity, the climate, animal welfare and natural resources,” the ministry also said.

The aim of the strategy is to ensure the supply of high-quality food and preserve the environment and biodiversity, expand agriculture’s contribution to climate protection and at the same time adapt it to the consequences of climate change.

The strategy should also contribute to the industry regaining social acceptance in the country, and farmers should also be able to live better from their work in the future.

To implement these ambitious goals, the ministry is proposing a number of fields of action, including higher fertiliser efficiency, better-integrated crop protection, greater crop diversity, climate-adapted cultivation concepts and optimal use of digital potential, as well as a variety of individual measures.

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‘Symbolic politics’

But according to WWF, it is all just “symbolic politics”.

Instead of working together with the environment ministry, as was foreseen, the food, agriculture and consumer protection ministry presented its arable farming strategy on its own although such a siloed approach contradicts the approach of the Commission on the Future of Agriculture, which says that “the challenges within agriculture can only be overcome together”.

On top of that, the strategy paper is a “great disappointment”, according to nature conservation organisation BUND.

The changes made to the strategy, intended as a response to the consequences of the climate crisis, “fall far short in view of the dramatic situation,” BUND Chair Olaf Bandt has said. The draft “lacks concrete statements on implementation and financing,” and Klöckner’s arable farming strategy “only offers band-aids instead of help”, he added.

The German Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) is also critical of the paper.

According to NABU’s Federal Executive Director Leif Miller, the strategy is “far too unspecific” and “not in line with the measures for nature and climate protection in arable farming promised at the beginning of the legislative period.”

After the agriculture ministry had already put the brakes on the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) and other “long-overdue reforms”, the 2035 arable farming strategy now crowns a “legislature of agricultural policy disappointments”.

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A strategy paper that is ‘totally non-binding’ 

Farmers, too, are generally unconvinced by the ministry’s strategy paper.

Although the arable farming strategy “admits that arable farming has to change”, the plan presented by Klöckner “cannot achieve its goals, because it is totally non-binding”, Peter Röhrig, executive director of the German Federation of the Organic Food Industry (BÖLW), told EURACTIV Germany.

An effective strategy would have to “show how exactly Germany intends to reduce pesticide use by 50% and how 25% organic farming can be achieved by 2030,” he added.

According to Röhrig, publishing the strategy a few weeks before the federal elections shows “that the ministry is concerned with communication and not with substantial change.”

And with her plans for the CAP, Klöckner is above all “ensuring that the farming method that is most effective for fewer pesticides and more biodiversity – namely organic farming – falls behind”.

[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Zoran Radosavljevic]

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