The wet and dry business of European agriculture

The agricultural sector is heavily reliant on quality soil and water. They are, however, faced with quite a few challenges that, if unaddressed, could affect the European food supply majorly. The high usage of pesticides, fertilisers and other chemicals is polluting water and soil, which in turn affects the crops that grow there. Intensive use of soil and overuse of water is leading to unsustainable practices since the land is degrading due to these practices. Extreme weather caused by climate change has been a problem for the agricultural sector. Droughts and floods have caused trouble in recent years. In order to combat challenges of this sort, the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) has been created by the European Union. (EC, 2019)

First off, a new green architecture for the CAP will incorporate stronger rules and push for more sustainable agriculture. One of these ways is eco-schemes that Member States should make use of through the CAP. The European Commission states that the following agricultural practices are able to be supported by these eco-schemes;

  • The practices should cover activities related to climate, environment, animal welfare and microbial resistance;
  • They shall be defined on the basis of the needs and priorities identified at national/regional levels;
  • Their level of ambition has to go beyond the requirements and obligations established in the baseline;
  • They shall contribute to reaching EU Green Deal targets. (EC, 2021)

Secondly, on the issue of overuse of chemicals like pesticides and fertilisers, the CAP is introducing the Fast Sustainability Tool for nutrients (FaST). What this means is that CAP can advise farmers on the use of nutrients to suit the needs of the crops. Overall, this is aimed to reduce the usage of chemicals, which leads to healthier soil. Another way the CAP puts a focus on improving the well-being of soil and water in the EU is through some of the nine specific objectives. One of the objectives is related to landscapes, which in this context means that the goal is to promote biodiversity. This is important for soil since monocultures can ruin soil health, whereas crop diversity does the opposite. The reduced amount of chemicals also benefits the water that is used, since it often includes residues from the nutrients that are used on the crops.

Finally, while it is very positive that legislation like CAP has been created, the agricultural sector is plagued by problems that stem from outside. The aforementioned droughts and floods of the last few years are likely results of the changing climate. There is a strong agricultural industry that we need to keep intact. Everyone needs food, so the challenges they face also impact everyone in the long run.

To conclude, the measures through CAP are a way to combat the growing number of challenges in the agricultural sector. There is a risk factor, being the dependency of EU Member States to effectively make use of tools like eco-schemes in order to improve the current situation. Soil and water are parts of the chain that keeps our food supply afloat, so unless we want to keep a steady supply of food, everyone needs to do their part, wherever they can, no matter how big or small.


Written by Max Tilly

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