Euractiv 10 Janvier 2012 – Souhaitant rompre avec des traditions agricoles d’un autre temps, un groupe de jeunes agriculteurs européens plaide en faveur du passage à une agriculture durable et espère que les décideurs politiques bruxellois les entendront. Au milieu d’une réforme de la PAC qui s’annonce douloureuse et peu ambitieuse, ce genre d’initiative est encourageant….
The Climate Farmers campaigners are promoting farming practices that conserve resources, reduce emissions and improve the land through less intensive chemical use. They also seek to influence the future of European Union’s farm support programme, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
Policy debates and research into what can be done to reduce the environmental footprint of food production often do not translate into useable information for farmers, said Sander Kerkhoffs, one of the leaders of the Climate Farmers project.
“A lot of research is done by universities and other institutions, but a lot of those results from the research don’t fit to the practical circumstances at the farm level,” Kerkhoffs said.
“So we wanted to look at practical measures which are already implemented on some farms which have proven their effect in lowering emissions, for example, or can be further introduced to colleague farmers.”
Climate Farmers has produced information on sustainable farming methods in Ireland, Spain, the Netherlands and Sweden and wants to share their recommendations across Europe. A website supported by the European Council of Young Farmers and the Dutch Young Farmers Organisation was launched at the end of 2011.
The campaigners use case studies to show that farmers can play a role in trimming carbon emissions, cutting pesticide and fertiliser use, and reducing their water footprint while improving crop output and animal husbandry.
The methods are as basic as reducing ploughing, mixing cover crops to raise organic matter in soil, and letting animals graze more to cut the reduce the need for imported feeds. At one farm, manure is being used to create biogas to run tractors and generate electricity while reducing methane pollution that is a byproduct of animal waste.
Kerkhoffs, 31, said in a telephone interview that sustainable methods pay off for his family dairy and pig farm in the eastern Netherlands town of Braamt. Animals spend more time grazing to reduce the need for imported feeds and the family has improved the efficiency of milking operations to cut refrigeration and energy consumption – “it’s harder work of course, but productive”, he said.
Sustainability vs. production
Sustainability is emerging as a contentious topic in EU discussions on the 2014-2020 CAP policy and budget. The Commission is pushing proposals to encourage more organic farming and crop rotation to reduce fertiliser use. Proposals unveiled by the Commission in October also seek to reward farmers who leave land fallow and increase buffer areas.
But some farm organisations argue that at a time of growing global food needs and high commodity prices, moving land out of production and jeopardising yields is counterproductive.
Talks over the future CAP will intensify this year as the European Parliament and national governments press for changes to the EU executive’s proposals.
Still, there is support for greener policies.
“The greatest challenges we face in the future are developing a sustainable food production system and ensuring global food security and the solutions to both these challenges are completely interlinked,” said MEP George Lyon (Liberal Democrats), a Scottish farmer and member of the European Parliament’s agriculture committee.
“Europe cannot duck the challenges,” Lyon told the Oxford Conference on Farming last week. “We have a major role to play in finding the answers to the sustainability question and we must continue to make a contribution to global food security.”
Speaking from his farm in the Netherlands, Kerkhoffs says Climate Farmers’ studies show that sustainability and greener farming don’t undermine productivity. He said older farmers accustomed to routines of ploughing and applying chemicals to nurture plants and soils will need to be persuaded to change, but he insists the sustainability measures he advocates save money and increase productivity.
Leaving cultivated crops in the soil until the next growing season, for example, increases organic content without the need for fertilisers – and saves ploughing time, he says. Ploughing also releases carbon trapped in soils, so reducing time spent churning earth cuts greenhouse gas emissions.
Kerkhoffs says the Climate Farmers recommendations could serve as a compromise in the EU debate. The Commission, for example, has called for leaving 7% of farm land fallow or reserved for buffers, yet Kerkhoffs says the sustainable methods he promotes can do both: improve the environment without taking land out of cultivation.
“Maybe we can stimulate a solution that still uses this land, but tries to raise organic matter and use less fossil fuel than our ordinary agriculture production”, he said.