Digesting Farm to Fork

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

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Alexandra Brand, Regional Director, EAME, Syngenta Crop Protection

The European Commission’s Farm to Fork strategy aims to make food systems fairer, healthier, and more environmentally friendly. Outcomes we all sign up to. Recent studies have revealed, however, serious unintended consequences of the strategy’s approach to setting targets for the reduction of crop protection and fertilizer use.

Alexandra Brand is Regional Director (EAME) at Syngenta Crop Protection.

Lower yields, higher food prices, unviable incomes for farmers, and fewer opportunities to export produce are all hard to swallow, but that is what a recent impact assessment from Wageningen University concluded.

We cannot ignore this data, and we certainly cannot trade-off good outcome intentions with such problematic consequences.

This is a call for action. I see this as a huge opportunity for all of us in agriculture to step up and innovate. This is a unique chance to accelerate the introduction of new approaches in how farmers will grow our food.

Farmers are environmentalist

Everyone has a responsibility to address climate change, including the agricultural sector. Farmers have a vested interest as they are impacted greatly by climate change and low fertile, low carbon soils. They face increasing pressures from soil erosion and biodiversity loss, and the natural world that farming works with, plant pests and diseases, continue to pose challenges.

Regenerative agriculture, which is sometimes called nature-positive agriculture, is one possible approach to deliver on the right balance between the need to supply sufficient food and to take care of our environment. It’s not a specific technology or agricultural system but a combination of farming practices that help to achieve the outcomes that we want.

These outcomes include improved land-use efficiency to protect non-agricultural land, but also to protect the soils we grow crops on for future generations.

Regenerative agriculture also looks to protect and enhance biodiversity and ecosystem services, ensuring surface and artesian water supplies are safe for nature and human use.

But changing a farm’s management is a high economic risk farmers cannot take on their own. Regenerative agriculture requires new technologies, investments, piloting, and scientific agronomic support. Farmers need an alliance of the scientific community, industry, consumers, and policy makers to support them to drive this change.

A call for innovation

Science-based innovation can support farmers in making better choices in how to operate farms more sustainably. The agricultural sector is ready to step-up innovation and invest to help farmers in their quest for more environmentally friendly and economically viable operations.

Many new technologies are getting more mainstream use by farmers, including digital agriculture, precision technologies, new breeding technologies and biologicals such as biocontrols and biostimulants.

Digital agriculture can enable a better risk sharing between farmers and innovators. Through these technologies farmers can measure not only yield and economic outcomes but also biodiversity improvements and soil carbon content.

Biocontrols are products based on naturally occurring materials that are used for biotic stress management in controlling fungal and bacterial diseases, pests, nematodes, and weeds.

Biostimulants are products that are used with the intention to stimulate natural processes of plants, requiring less fertilizer, improving crop quality, building soil carbon and tolerance to climate stress.

We believe we are on the right pathway to designing a better mix of science-based tools for more sustainable farming.

But to accelerate shifts towards more sustainable farming and adoption of new practices we need a policy and regulatory environment that recognises, rewards, and drives innovation.

Stepping up to the plate

Farmers and growers are best placed to talk about the specific support they need from policy makers.

For us as innovators, speed to market is critical. It currently takes up to 11 years for any crop protection substance to arrive on the market, and pests and diseases are not waiting. We need to see a broad choice of biological products available for farmers with a modern fast-track, risk-based regulatory system.

Regulatory policy and implementation need to account for the outcomes digital tools and new technologies can bring. These technologies also need public support and a well-trained agricultural advisory network. Recognition and reward of responsible use and risk management of crop protection techniques should also be considered.

We are focused on innovating to help overcome the trade-offs identified in the recent impact assessment on the Farm to Fork strategy. We remain fully committed to leading advancements in agriculture technology and delivering options for farmers that mitigate impacts of climate change, protect the planet, and help feed populations.

We are ready to step up to the plate and work with policy makers, growers and indeed consumers to accelerate the pace of change and deliver a Farm to Fork strategy that works for everyone and the environment.  It is in all our interests to safeguard the integrity of Europe’s agricultural sector and ensure it remains economically robust and competitive for future generations.

We have a great opportunity here. Let’s seize it.

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