No chances for an agricultural turnaround?

The much-needed agricultural reform in the European Union, which was supposed to green agriculture, to help it with climate change, or even to make it a helper against climate change – it has failed. Failed in the European Council and the European Parliament. That is the bad news. And now the good one: the EU Commission does not want to accept this.

Frans Timmermans, who is in charge of the Green Deal on the Commission, wants to halve the use of pesticides and cut fertilizer slashing by 20 percent, as well as 10 percent set-aside. On 10 November, the so-called trialogue on the common agricultural policy CAP, the negotiations between the Council, Parliament and the Commission, began in Brussels. This is the last chance for agricultural reform worthy of the name.

But did not the German Minister for Agriculture speak of a ‘change of system’, of a major reform which she had pushed through in the Council? Yes, she had. And in doing so, she obviously wanted to sell us the continuation of the way she had negotiated with her colleagues in the Council of Ministers as an agricultural reform. One may speculate whether this was simply a brazen lie or whether Julia Klöckner has an official kink in the optics. Afterwards, the European Parliament, with a very large coalition of conservatives, socialists and liberals, sunk the reform, which had been under discussion for two years. In principle, European agricultural subsidies should remain as they are. If it goes according to the Council, 80 per cent of the subsidies will continue to be tied to the agricultural area. Lots of land - a lot of money. When it comes to Parliament, it is 70 per cent. After all, the EU Parliament wants a cap of EUR 100,000 per farm per year. The rest, i.e. 20 or 30 percent of the agricultural millions, is to be spent on so-called eco schemes. Only what these eco-regulations are supposed to be, except for a new green coat, is still unclear. This is what the Member States are supposed to regulate. Commissioner Frans Timmermans, by the way, does not like that either. When it comes to it, the Commission sets the rules and monitors them.

What do I care about agricultural subsidies?

Yes, what do we others, we consumers, have to do with this whole dispute? A lot, because it’s not just about our money, it’s even about our lives. What agriculture does not only determine the quality of our food, not only whether we eat and inhale pesticides, whether we are already serving our children a poison cocktail with breast milk, but also about our future.

This is simply because agriculture deals with the most important resource for our survival: the soil. This soil under the wheels of the tractors is the most species-rich biotope on earth. Millions of earthworms and billions of much smaller creatures make it fertile. Everything that lives on solid soil depends on this soil life, every plant, every animal. But above all, the mammal human. It was only agriculture that made it possible for us to colonize the whole earth, as farmers we made the earth our garden. But we are no longer good gardeners.

Agriculture destroys its foundation

In recent decades, more and more industrialized agriculture has long begun to consume our most important resource. It is not only through sealing, settlement and road construction that we lose ground, but also through erosion. The federal state of Lower Saxony, which observes and documents erosion in Germany the longest, assumes an average loss of up to 3.2 tons of arable crumb per hectare per year. With it flying away in the wind or washed away by the water of the humus that the soil life has built up.

Humus is not only the hotbed of soil fertility, but humus is also a huge carbon store. That is why the French launched the so-called four-per-mille initiative at the climate summit in Paris, which, incidentally, Germany has also signed: if we were to build up only four millimetres of humus per year on all agricultural soils worldwide, all man-made CO2 emissions of the year would have been dumped in the soil. We could do this for a few years until the humus content of the soils in each case was saturated. And there are also farmers who do this, and projects that promote humus building. But these are individuals.

The European Union now has the opportunity to convert agricultural subsidies in such a way that farmers are paid for the other economies that would be needed to build humus. We would then no longer see exposed fields, as is now the case everywhere in autumn and winter. By the way, biodiversity would increase, the rescue of which the EU has also set itself on the blue flag. All that matters is that the Commission enforces its demands and does not leave the Green Deal behind at the time of the CAP negotiations.

And anyone who now thinks that this is only a very vague hope, is to the end a good news: the trialogue negotiations will drag on until the spring, but the German Presidency of the Council will end on 31 December.