How will the new EU strategy affect tillage over the next 10 years?

The EU Commission announced its Farm to Fork Strategy on Wednesday, May 20. The strategy will dramatically change the face of European agriculture into the future and directly affect how farmers farm.

The strategy’s focus is on sustainability and the major changes will come in the form of a reduction in fertiliser and pesticide use by 20% and 50% respectively.

After examining it more closely, here’s what AgriLand sees as the major take-home messages for the tillage sector.

The document states that sustainable food production must be ensured by making best use of “nature-based, technological, digital and space-based solutions to deliver better climate and environmental results, increase climate resilience and reduce and optimise the use of inputs [e.g. pesticides, fertilisers]”.

The document goes on to say that these solutions “require human and financial investment, but also promise higher returns by creating added value and by reducing costs”.

Here are some of the ways it plans to implement these solutions.

Carbon sequestration rewards

Tillage farmers, particularly those practicing low-impact tillage, will be happy to know that carbon sequestration will now be rewarded.

The strategy gives an example of a “new green business model” of carbon sequestration by farmers and foresters.

It states that: “Farming practices that remove COfrom the atmosphere contribute to the climate neutrality objective and should be rewarded, either via the Common Agricultural Policy [CAP] or other public or private initiatives.

Also Read: EU aims to reward farms that remove carbon under new business model

“A new EU carbon farming initiative under the climate pact will promote this new business model, which provides farmers with a new source of income and helps other sectors to decarbonise the food chain.

“As announced in the Circular Economy Action Plan [CEAP], the commission will develop a regulatory framework for certifying carbon removals based on robust and transparent carbon accounting to monitor and verify the authenticity of carbon removals.”

Reduction in pesticides

The commission plans to reduce the use of chemical pesticides by 50%. It also plans to reduce the use of more hazardous pesticides by 50% by 2030. The document states:

To pave the way to alternatives and maintain farmers’ incomes, the commission will take a number of steps. It will revise the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive, enhance provisions on integrated pest management [IPM] and promote greater use of safe alternative ways of protecting harvests from pests and diseases.

The strategy puts an emphasis on the use of IPM and mentions crop rotation as a pest-reduction strategy. IPM is already widely practiced here in Ireland. Mechanical weeders are also mentioned and these products have already seen an increase in sales over the past number of years.

It states that IPM will be one of “the main tools in reducing the use of, and dependency on, chemical pesticides in general, and the use of more hazardous pesticides in particular”.

Biological active substances

“The commission also plans to facilitate the placing on the market of pesticides containing biological active substances as well as reinforcing the environmental risk assessment of pesticides.”

The document states that the commission “will act to reduce the length of the pesticide authorisation process by member states” and “will also propose changes to the 2009 regulation concerning statistics on pesticides to overcome data gaps and promote evidence-based policymaking”.

Nutrient losses

The commission also states that it plans to reduce nutrient losses by at least 50% “while ensuring that there is no deterioration in soil fertility”.

As part of this strategy the use of fertilisers is planned to be reduced by at least 20% by 2030.

The commission plans to work with member states to develop an integrated nutrient management action plan “to address nutrient pollution at source and increase the sustainability of the livestock sector”.

Protect plant health

The commission plans to “reinforce vigilance on plant imports and surveillance on union territory” to protect plants from emerging pests and diseases.

Review of genomic techniques

The commission will review new genomic techniques which may improve sustainability.

On Wednesday, May 20, at the adoption of the Farm to Fork Strategy Commissioner Stella Kyriakides stated that the EU needs to develop innovative ways to protect crops from pests and diseases.

She remarked that this requires new innovative techniques and, referring to gene-editing, stated that it was part of a study being undertaken by the EU at present. Gene-editing to be reviewed by EU in 2021

Organic agriculture

The commission also plans to have 25% of the EU’s agricultural land in organic production by 2030.

Geographical indications to be strengthened

There may be good news for Irish tillage farmers as the strategy also outlines a plan to “strengthen the legislative framework on geographical indications and, where appropriate, include specific sustainability criteria”.

At present, ‘Irish’ whiskey can be produced without Irish grain and large proportions are produced from imported maize. This is something that AgriLand will watch with a keen interest.

A move to plant-based diets

The document also plans to encourage a move towards a more plant-based diet which may see a rise in tillage farming.

It states: “Moving to a more plant-based diet with less red and processed meat and with more fruits and vegetables will reduce not only risks of life-threatening diseases, but also the environmental impact of the food system.” EU touts ‘a more plant-based diet’ – with less red meat

The document states that the current consumption of whole-grain cereals, fruit and vegetables, legumes and nuts is “insufficient”.