The European Commission has a plan to eliminate modern farming in Europe. The details emerged last month, as part of a “European Green Deal” announced late last year that calls for the continent to become “climate neutral” by 2050.
The commission speaks of “turning climate and environmental challenges into opportunities.” It also talks about “making the transition just and inclusive for all.” It should have added three words: “except for farmers.”
That’s because the EU Commission just released its “Farm to Fork” strategy, which is the agricultural portion of the European Green Deal. It announces a series of unrealistic goals: In the next decade, farmers like me are supposed to slash our use of crop-protection products by half, cut our application of fertilizer by 20 percent, and transform a quarter of total farmland into organic production.
None of this, of course, is supposed to disrupt anybody’s dinner. Europeans are blessed to live in a well-fed society. We have stable governments, reliable infrastructure, and advanced economies. We also have some of the best farmland in the world, with good soil and strong yields, year after year.
Through intensive farming, we achieve excellent results—and we don’t face the problems of hunger and malnutrition that plague less fortunate people in other societies. What the European Commission now proposes, essentially, is smaller harvests. For consumers, this will lead directly to one thing: Higher prices. Food will cost more.
There’s also a deeper problem. How are farmers supposed to make a living when we’re growing fewer crops and selling less food? The commission fails to consider one of the most likely results of its misbegotten approach to agriculture: When farmers can’t turn a profit, they’ll quit farming. If that happens, the smaller harvests will shrink even further.
This defies what the commission says is its major goal, which is to make “the EU’s economy sustainable.” It needs to understand that there is no such thing as economic sustainability without a sustainable economy.
It also raises the question of where our food will come from, if it doesn’t come from our own farms. We could always import more food from other places. Global trade already is an essential feature of food production. We should encourage more of it.
Yet the European Green Deal will lead to substandard farming in places with less productive farmland. This may help fill bellies in a Europe that has fewer farmers. It may even salve the consciences of activists and bureaucrats in Brussels. It certainly won’t help the climate.
Our goal should be to grow more food on less land. Yet the EU’s present approach, driven by ideology rather than science, will lead to growing less food on more land. What’s “green” about that?
This is all supposed to happen, by the way, at a time of worldwide population growth. Demographers expect that an additional 2 billion people will inhabit our planet by 2050. We need to feed them, too. Figuring out how to do this over the next 30 years is farming’s major challenge—and the solution, if we find one, lies in the creative use of innovative technologies, products and strategies, especially in the developing world.
What we don’t need are the additional burden of restrictions that will make it harder for Europeans to feed themselves. Worst of all, however, the European Green Deal seems to assume that farmers are the foes of conservation. It treats us as a problem to be solved rather than allies in a common cause.
We’re already working hard to be as “green” as possible. On my farm, we produce a portion of our electricity with solar panels. We use GPS and other technologies to reduce waste when we apply manure and fight weeds. We plant cover crops to protect soil erosion. We grow flower strips to attract pollinating insects and improve biodiversity.
As time and technology allow, we’ll do even more of this. The surest way to prevent positive innovation, however, is to threaten the ability of farmers to make a living. For farmers—and everybody—the European Green Deal is a rotten deal.
Marcus Holtkoetter is part of his family’s 10-generation farm, where they grow winter wheat and barley, corn, canola and pigs in the northwest part of Germany. Marcus has an active social media presence as he tells his story and that of other farmers. Marcus is a guest author for the Global Farmer Network. www.globalfarmernetwork.org