This article is part of our special report Growth and jobs: Where does the CAP stand?.
European Commission plans to force tractors to have anti-lock braking systems (ABS) are unnecessarily expensive for manufacturers and based on inaccurate analysis, EU farmers and machinery industry representatives have warned.
In the EU, fast tractors reaching speeds above 60 km/h have been required to have anti-lock Braking Systems (ABS) installed since 2016.
The European Commission now needs to decide whether to make ABS mandatory for tractors with speed ranges of 40-60 km/h by 2021.
The executive has commissioned a cost-benefit analysis of the proposed measure, which is scheduled to start in November. Based on the findings, the Commission will determine in mid-2017 whether or not to make the change by drafting an amendment to the Braking Regulation (2015/68).
CEMA, the European Agricultural Machinery association, believes the Commission incorrectly treats tractors as automobiles.
The machinery industry believes that making ABS – or any other technology – mandatory can only be justified if there is ample evidence of a risk and sound proof that the technology in question can help avoid that risk.
Lack of benefits
CEMA claims ABS technology won’t help improve road safety in any statistically significant manner.
“In fact, with an average fleet renewal rate of 1.7% of total EU-28 tractor sales, it would take more than 20 years before the first fatal accident could statistically be avoided,” said Ulrich Adam, CEMA secretary general.
“By contrast, improving, for instance, the lighting and signalling of Europe’s entire tractor fleet could prevent up to 70 fatal accidents each year,” he told euractiv.com.
“There might be a natural commercial interest by the actual developers of ABS braking systems to make this a mandatory feature on tractors, but such a move cannot be justified if the evidence is weak or not existing,” Adam added, claiming his argument was in line with the EU’s Better Regulation principles.
CEMA has identified potential technical risks if ABS was made compulsory. Since tractors are primarily off-road vehicles, introducing an on-road technology such as ABS could have the opposite effect and create new hazardous situations, Adam claimed.
“An ABS-enabled evasive action on a narrow rural road may generate other, potentially far more severe dangers such as frontal collision with opposite traffic,” he noted, adding that operators may also fail to switch ABS on and off each time they enter or leave the road, particularly when they need to travel multiple times from farm to field in one single day.
High costs for farmers and agricultural contractors
Another concern is the costs incurred by the necessary fleet renewal.
“Effective overall cost increases for farmers and agricultural contractors to buy tractors with ABS could range from 2.5% to up to 10% of the vehicle price and reach up to €5,000 per machine,” Adam said.
Adding such a significant cost burden on farmers’ bottom line would be “unacceptable, particularly in light of the current farm crisis, and particularly when better, proven, and more cost-efficient solutions are available,” the CEMA head said.
Lack of evidence
EU farmers’ association Copa-Cogeca is also sceptical about the effectiveness of the inclusion of ABS brakes for tractors.
“We don’t think that at this stage the evidence to support a proportionate and evidenced-based policy is there,” said Daniel Azevedo, senior policy advisor at Copa-Cogeca.
Adding high extra costs on farmers should also be considered and tractors were already subject to speed limitations, he said.
“Everyday use is mostly off-road and at low speed. We must, therefore, see evidence that fitting ABS on tractors when they are used in this way, provides a safety benefit,” he said, urging the European Commission to perform a proper cost-benefit analysis focusing on the specific needs of agricultural businesses.
“It is important to understand if the potential safety benefits in road safety are outweighed by potential new endangering situations occurring on-road but also off-road,” Azevedo added, calling on the EU executive to work on the issue with the users of the agricultural machinery and farmers.
Precision farming and flexibility
The ABS controversy is part of a wider debate about the balance between an innovative Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and a strict regulatory framework.
EU farmers and the agri-food industry do recognise the value of a digital push for the EU farming sector, but simultaneously warn that investment costs should be considered.
Jean-Paul Beens, the public affairs chief for fertiliser company Yara, believes farmers should be encouraged to embrace technological innovation.
“Farmers should not be suffocated by additional regulations but be incentivised to explore, with full flexibility, this new technology potential,” he told EURACTIV. In his view, innovations for precision farming related to crop nutrition – like sensors, testers or smartphone apps – bring significant environmental benefits.
EU farmers need to access the latest technology in order to compete in the world market, according to Copa-Cogeca.
“A worry that we share with manufacturers is that research funding is spent on compliance with regulation as opposed to funding new innovations,” Azevedo said.
“For example, in the field of smart machinery, we must comply with regulations and meet ambitious environmental targets,” Azevedo said, adding that this forces machines to undergo structural changes, which can impact the way farms are designed.
“Farm machines are capital-intense investment goods for farmers that need to deliver a return for the farmer. Therefore, it is important to make sure that all necessary technical equipment is available in the future, to respond to the specific needs of farming at a reasonable cost,” Azevedo added.