European farmers are furious over a bullshit plan by the European Union which would force then to be treated as industrial plants, similar to steel mills or chemical works, in order to force them to cut greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution, the Financial Times reports.
Greek farmer Takis Kazanas, 66, and his four sons run a 230-acre ranch with 300 cattle ranch in the mountains overlooking the Thessalian Plain. While the farmers already capture biogas from cow dung, and use homemade manure vs. chemical fertilizer, Kazanas is one of many farmers up in arms over environmentalist bureaucrats who want to impose crippling new rules on them in order to cut emissions by 55% by 2030 vs. 1990 levels.
“That’s what the EU says and that’s what I do,” says Kazanas, regarding the ‘earth-friendly’ measures he already employs. “Today, everyone blames cattle for methane production and pollution . . . I have a different opinion.”
The sheer scale of the transformation that the European Commission is asking for in its Farm to Fork strategy — halving the amount of pesticides applied by 2030, cutting the use of fertilisers, doubling organic production and rewilding some farmland — would be remarkable even in less urgent times.
Yet it comes as the war in Ukraine has upended global food markets, and as farmers face a cut in subsidies in the Common Agricultural Policy, the €55bn-a-year programme that has underwritten Europe’s food security since 1962.
The EU argues that the agriculture sector is badly in need of environmental reforms. One senior EU official working on climate policy calls it “our problem child”. -FT
According to Brussels, nitrous oxides found in fertilizer, as well as animal urine and poop, are a large part of the problem.
One problem facing farmers is thin margins between organic producers who survive on local trade, to pig farmers whose profits are being whittled away by international competition. As the Times notes, “even a small increase in the price of feed can wipe out annual profits.”
After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the EU almost immediately unveiled ‘Farm to Fork’ pollution targets. According to a senior commission official, “the debate has changed.”
The goals of the program, via FT, are to:
- Cut the use of chemical and hazardous pesticides by 50% by 2030
- Reduce fertiliser use by 20% by 2030
- Lower by 50% the sales of antimicrobials for farmed animals and in aquaculture
- Increase the amount of land devoted to organic farming to 25% in 2030 from 9.1% in 2020
- Bigger livestock farms to comply with clean air and water regulations that apply to heavy industry
That said, farmers have banded together – and thanks to organized, well-funded campaigns, EU governments have softened their tone over what is becoming a new battleground over green ambitions.
In the Netherlands, the government recently paused a program which would shutter farms in order to reduce nitrous oxide emissions, after a Farmer Citizen Movement (BBB) won a surprising share of provincial elections in March. Poland, Bulgaria and Hungry, meanwhile, have temporarily halted imports of grain, dairy products, meat, fruits and vegetables from Ukraine after farmers were livid over Ukrainian commodities flooding the market and depressing prices.
Belgian MP, Tom Vandenkendelaere, says the pressure on farmers is insane.
“It is the number of policies hitting them at the same time. We need to slow down,” he said, adding that farmers are being made to feel vilified for simply doing their jobs.
“They feel their whole way of life is under attack … Farmers are asking, ‘Why does Brussels hate us?’”
Well, it is, and farmers are suffering.
Boeren op een Kruispunt, an independent non-profit offering mental health counselling to farmers in Flanders, northern Belgium, has reported a 44 per cent increase in demand in 2022 compared with 2021, he says.
According to the French Institute for Health, farmers are three times more likely to commit suicide than other professionals. As Caroline van der Plas, leader of the BBB, told the Dutch parliament this month: “People who provide our daily food . . . are dismissed as animal abusers, poisoners, soil destroyers and environmental polluters.”
EU environmentalists don’t care.
“It is a significant change for our farmers, but inevitably they will have to be part of the solution,” said Virginijus Sinkevičius, the EU’s environment and fisheries commissioner, who added: “Maybe that won’t happen overnight.”
And according to the office of European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, “The commission is convinced that the transition to a resilient and sustainable agricultural sector, in line with the European green deal and its Farm to Fork and biodiversity strategies, is fundamental to food security.”
The farmers have their backs up against the wall
Belgium farmer Bram van Hecke, says he and his father and brothers are feeling squeezed – between policymakers trying to force them into untenable production and consumers who can’t afford inflated food prices.
“If you go to a bank saying I want to invest but my income will halve they are not going to give you a loan,” he told the Times. “Producing more is a viable business, while being extremely environmental might harm your business.”
Van Hecke says an EU directive requiring that farmers track the spread of ‘muck’ with GPS is already costing his family €10,000-€15,000 annually.
“The average land price in Flanders is €63,000 per hectare — we lose about 4 hectares to the nitrates directive. You can do the maths,” he said. “The government is saying we are going to increase your costs but there is no vision for helping increase income.”