Sustainable agriculture requires a joint effort

General Assembly of the German Farmers’ Association 2021 Sustainable agriculture requires a joint effort

At the General Assembly of the German Farmers’ Association, Federal Chancellor Merkel stressed that she takes farmers’ concerns very seriously. In times of globalisation, increased pressure of competition, rapidly changing environmental conditions and rising land and lease prices, rural areas and agriculture deserved our full attention, she said.

Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks at the General Assembly of the German Farmers’ Association 2021.

The motto of this year’s General Assembly of the German Farmers’ Association is “Future Agriculture”.

Photo: Federal Government/Bergmann

According to the Federal Chancellor, policymakers were called upon to establish a reliable framework to maintain the competitiveness of agriculture while at the same time responding to changing societal and ecological demands. These challenges justified the considerable support provided for farmers from public funds, she said.

In seeking to make agriculture viable in the future, dialogue with all stakeholders was needed, Merkel emphasised: “It is this willingness to embrace change that we need – both in agriculture and among consumers.” She said that this was where the Future Commission on Agriculture came into play – a body set up by the Federal Government that represents various groups relevant to the sector. She said she expected the Commission’s final report to be published at the beginning of July. This would be the “cornerstone” of the discussion on the way forward for agriculture, according to the Federal Chancellor.

Sustainable compromises found

With regard to the amendment of the Climate Protection Act, Angela Merkel said that a workable compromise had been found for agriculture and forestry that took into account the special role of agriculture.

The same applied to the implementation of the insect protection programme, she added, even though this would involve a lot of adjustments that could mean considerable economic disadvantages for individual farms. “I myself and of course the Minister of Agriculture are taking the concerns of the agricultural sector very, very seriously,” said Angela Merkel. She added that this was why the current version of the programme provided for the possibility of existing federal state regulations and partnerships to be carried forward. According to the Federal Chancellor, there are also numerous support measures to relieve the strain on the sector that would be felt nonetheless. “I’m aware that the insect protection programme remains controversial. But we should always bear in mind that if we hadn’t arrived at a decision at all, the problem wouldn’t have gone away. On the contrary, the situation would only have become even more pressing,” said the Federal Chancellor.

On the subject of animal welfare, the Federal Chancellor said that when it came to the question of improvements, it was no longer a matter of whether these would be implemented but how – which meant coming up with practicable, legally sound solutions that were politically tenable, too. “We should make the most of the current cross-party consensus to push ahead with sustainable livestock farming so as to be able to offer a future perspective for the sector as a whole.”

Future prospects for young people

Merkel concluded by appealing to young people to opt for a career in farming: “If we want to continue to maintain domestic food production, promote climate protection and preserve biodiversity as well conserving agricultural landscapes and bolstering rural areas, we need young people.” I believe this is more than enough reason for young people to choose this profession and take on responsibility – not just perpetuating family traditions but building on them, too.”

How sustainable agriculture can succeed

There are many ways to help farmers protect the environment and the climate. The shift towards greater sustainability requires technological innovations in agriculture as well as a willingness to support sustainably produced food on the part of both retailers and consumers.

The Federal Government has implemented a wide range of measures to support farmers. Together with experts at federal and regional level as well as from the academic community and the trade associations, it has developed a comprehensive programme to support adaptation in the areas of plant cultivation, forestry, livestock farming and fisheries. Key factors here include risk management, research, practice transfer, breeding, species selection, food provenance, water management and use, information, data management and monitoring.

Here are some important examples:

Improved animal welfare: An increase in space and activity helps ensure the welfare of the animals. This often requires farmers to make investments – and these are subsidised by the Federal Government. 300 million euros will be made available for livestock building conversions, for example. Statutory amendments such as the ban on piglet castration and the ban on chick killing contribute to Germany’s progress in the area of animal welfare. Feasibility studies and impact assessments are now available to support the restructuring of livestock management in Germany to improve animal welfare, and the Animal Husbandry Competence Network has put forward well-founded proposals on this subject, too.

Fair prices for fair products: Farmers must be able to make a good living from what they produce. They and other producers are often subject to enormous pricing pressure, however. This happens when retailers cancel orders for perishable goods at short notice, for instance, or goods are not paid for until months later. There is now legislation that ensures fair contractual and supply relationships.

Modern technology reduces greenhouse gases: Initiatives aimed at enhanced sustainability and environmental protection are accelerating change in agriculture, with state-of-the-art methods helping to reduce unavoidable greenhouse gases to a minimum.

The Federal Government supports farms in making efficient use of energy and resources: under the Agricultural Investment Programme, for instance, for which funding of 816 million euros has been made available up until 2024, as well as the Future Strategy for Organic Agriculture (ZöL). In addition, the Federal Government has adopted the 2022 Emergency Action Programme for Increased Climate Protection, releasing more than 150 million euros to promote energy efficiency in agriculture as well as low-emission livestock buildings and storage facilities, while also funding research into climate-friendly agriculture. More than 330 million euros are to be provided to protect peatlands and promote sustainable forest management as well as for the preservation and cultivation of humus. By the year 2030, these programmes will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 65 percent as compared to 1990 levels. What is more, Germany is to achieve climate neutrality as early as 2045.

Protect and promote biodiversity: Diversity in fields and meadows ensures functioning ecosystems. They provide a habitat for insects and other organisms that are highly beneficial to cultivated land. Farmers are able to contribute significantly to promoting biodiversity by means of intelligent solutions. The Federal Government has set itself ambitious targets in this area with its Action Programme for Insect Conservation, which was adopted in September 2019. It is supporting farmers’ own efforts in this area with an additional 65 million euros. A total of 250 million euros is available under the Joint Federal-Regional Programme for Insect Conservation Services to provide targeted support for sustainable agriculture. By 2030, 20 percent of all agricultural land is to be farmed organically – a sum of 33 million euros is available for this purpose each year.

Common Agricultural Policy (CAP): Thanks to the Federal Government’s commitment, it will be possible to maintain the CAP on a virtually unchanged budget, with funding secured through to 2027. The CAP will be more oriented towards targets and results, not just aimed at boosting environmental and climate protection but also securing farmers’ incomes. More support will go to rural areas, small and medium-sized farms and young farmers.

Use of biological resources: Under the Renewable Resources funding programme, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture is supporting research into innovative, internationally competitive bio-based products and energy sources as well as cutting-edge processes and technologies for their production. These projects are dedicated to protecting the environment, natural resources and the climate, as well as strengthening agriculture and forestry. The programme currently draws on a total of some 85 million euros from the federal budget.