Can Europe deliver a Farm to fork future?

The EU’s Farm to Fork strategy is an ambitious one - as it needs to be - but its effective implementation will require much work and planning, writes Herbert Dorfmann.
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By Herbert Dorfmann

Herbert Dorfmann (IT, EPP) is rapporteur of the European Parliament’s Future of Food and Farming Report

31 Dec 2020

On 20 May 2020, the European Commission launched its ‘Farm to Fork’ strategy as a part of the European Green Deal. In the European Parliament, we are currently preparing an own-initiative report on the strategy. It is essentially a joint work between the AGRI committee and the ENVI committee, for which I am the rapporteur on the agricultural side.

The debate mainly focuses on two aspects: the objectives of this strategy, particularly on how to achieve them. On the first aspect, I believe that the strategy sets ambitious objectives, but there is a need for an impact assessment in order to prove whether these are truly realistic.

Here is a concrete example; if, by reducing inputs in agriculture we also reduce production, how will we be able to feed our citizens? In my point of view, the objectives fail to consider the different situations in which European farms in different European Member States may find themselves.

However, it is essential that we do consider the starting point and existing legislation before we set legally binding reduction targets.

“I believe that research and development must be a combination of public institutions, universities with strong involvement of private partners and the farmers themselves”

The second aspect concerns the way in which we want to achieve these objectives. I strongly believe that we have to distance ourselves from an idealistic, bucolic vision of agriculture.

We don’t have to go back to ploughs pulled by oxen or farmers, scythes in their hands, cutting the ears of wheat and then grinding the flour in an old mill. Instead, I believe that environmental objectives can only be achieved through research and development.

In fact, we must reduce inputs in agriculture without reducing production, something that research and development may help make possible. It is therefore important to invest in agriculture in the same way as we already invest in economic sectors. Only this way will it be possible to reduce the use of plant protection products, fertilisers and water in agriculture.

This will allow us to be more respectful of the environment and to preserve non-renewable resources such as phosphorus, an indispensable fertiliser that is mostly extracted from mines. I recall, for example, that on this point the European Union also committed itself to the treatment of manure, namely, to transform it into new fertilisers and at the same time to solve the problem of wastewater.

The new Common Agricultural Policy endorses important research programmes for agriculture in the framework of Horizon 2020. I believe that research and development must be a combination of public institutions and universities, with strong involvement of private partners and the farmers themselves.

From this point of view, it’s extremely important that the research on new breeding technologies continues. To ensure the steady continuation of this type of research, the EU needs to set a legislative base for research in this sector.

Those new breeding technologies result in the production of new varieties. These will contribute to developing plants that are more resistant to disease and will therefore reduce the need to use pesticides. I have already worked on issues related to developing low-risk plant protection products in the past.

We need a shorter, and therefore cheaper, procedure for approving these types of pesticides; otherwise, companies will struggle.

“Precision farming relies on the support of satellite systems, of AI and on 4G and 5G broadband networks - which are often not available in rural areas”

Precision agriculture can help our farmers in different ways. It can allow, for example, for a tractor to drive autonomously or optimise its passage through a field. Satellite systems can monitor climatic conditions and intervene to irrigate crops.

However, precision farming relies on the support of satellite systems, of AI and on 4G and 5G broadband networks - which are often not available in rural areas.

Therefore, investments in these networks are essential. Agriculture has always been a sector where innovation is crucial. At present, we have many technologies at our disposal such as AI, remote sensors, genetic improvements, etc.

The EU must support these technologies in order to achieve evermore sustainable agriculture. On this point, I would like to emphasise that in the new Common Agricultural Policy, the European Parliament has asked for 30 percent of the aid to be earmarked for agri-environmental measures, which corresponds to around €20bn a year for more sustainable agriculture.

This is a unique opportunity for our farmers and for our agriculture to meet the challenges of the future.

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