European agriculture’s future under discussion: online survey

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Agricultural policy is about many things, including not only food production and safety, public health, environment, climate and trade; it is also to consider the cumulative impacts of numerous modern challenges on different aspects of agro-policies and tackling climate and biodiversity challenges from other parts of the economy. The EU agro-policy is being discussed with a view to vital changes.

This year started with the Commission’s address to farmers to consider the challenges that the European farmers were facing, such as dramatic and increasing climate disasters, in the form of droughts, wildfires and floods, as well as that of energy, fertilizers and transport. However, farmers proceeded with increased production of most products, such as grain and meat, milk, fruits and vegetables.
Thus, during 2015-22, added production in EU agriculture increased by 28 percent and income per unit of work in agriculture increased by 43 percent. Today, the EU is the world’s largest food exporter: the surplus of exports over imports amounted to €58 billion.
For example, during 2023 the agro-surplus amounted to over €40 billion, with exports increasing by 5 percent (compared to 2022) and imports decreasing by 2 percent.
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Strategic Dialogue
In January 2024, the Commission launched a EU-wide Strategic Dialogue on the Future of Agriculture; it was aimed at bringing together a diverse group of actors from the European agro-food sector to find common solutions for the future of agricultural development.
The dialogue will contribute to developing a joint understanding of the future EU farming and food system among all actors across the whole agro-food chain, including farmers, co-operatives, agro-business and rural communities, as well as non-governmental organizations and civil society representatives, financial institutions and academia. The strategic dialogue will address challenges and opportunities, such as a fair standard of living for farmers and rural communities, supporting agriculture within the boundaries of our planet and its ecosystems, exploiting the huge opportunities offered by knowledge and technological innovation and promoting a thriving future for the EU’s food system in a competitive world. By combining different perspectives, the dialogue aims to foster the creation of new solutions and to bring about a common vision by summer 2024.
Thus, the strategic dialogue aims to cover all policies around agriculture and food production to strengthen the EU-wide approaches in dealing with the current and expected challenges. The dialogue will be an opportunity to hear the perspectives, ambitions, concerns and solutions of farmers and other key stakeholders in the agro-food chain. Besides, it will allow for a focused and targeted discussion to find a common ground for the future of the Union’s agro-food sector.
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Challenges and threats
There are however also threats, which have raised growing concerns for farmers: e.g. farming protests, which have flared up in some countries recently, are largely rooted in national policies; but they have to be addressed from the perspective of the EU-wide policies.
Then, military conflict in Ukraine affected the sector too: the EU aid provided to EU farmers impacted by the war in Ukraine, and which is more vital – the Commission included agriculture in the “extended national state aid”. During 2022-23, farmers in 22 EU states benefited from state aid, amounting to €9.3 billion in total to provide crucial support to the farmers most in need.
However, the EU’s openness to agricultural imports from Ukraine has unfortunately brought significant competitive threats to many of farmers in the member states, with the radically changed market situation. E.g. in 2021, only 16 percent of Ukrainian agricultural exports went to the EU market, during 2022-23, it has been “more than half”, acknowledged the Commissioner for agriculture. Thus, in 2022, agricultural imports from Ukraine to the EU almost doubled, from €7 to €13 billion; in 2023 this import exceeded €12 billion.

Green transition and ecological challenges
Vast majority of the EU farmers during last years showed deep concern about the environment and the green transition; however, many have also expressed concern over their ability to comply with increasing regulations and legal obligations. Thus, presently farmers’ concern is not about the EU Common Agricultural Policy, CAP but rather on legislative initiatives outside the CAP: e.g. the pesticides regulation, the industrial emissions directive and the nature restoration law.
There is a vital recently added element in CAP dealing with the EU-wide “green transition”, which has raised particular concern among farmers, e.g. the obligation to set aside at least 4 percent of arable land on farms over 10 ha to “non-productive areas or features”. In 2023, the Commission suspended this obligation by a delegated act, presently(despite great pressure from farmers) the Commission cannot longer prolong the derogation without amending the basic CAP’s act.
According to the EU’s CAP, farmers have submitted application forms and are implementing so-called eco-schemes; they are specifically beneficial for active farmers, who receive payments for practices like carbon farming or animal welfare, for which they did not receive payments before.
As Commissioner for agriculture noted, the EU “were concerned that farmers would not take advantage of the eco-schemes and that some of the funds would be lost”; however, the risks didn’t materialized and that all agricultural funds will be properly used (with over €300 billion planned for 2023-27).

Socio-economic aspects
Addressing labor and skills shortages in the agro-food sector is of paramount importance for the member states and the Commission, with implications reaching beyond the sector and dealing with the broader concerns of food security. The shortage of manpower in the sector is a critical challenge that necessitates immediate attention: i.e. it is not just about the quantity of people working in agriculture; it is about ensuring that those contributing to the sector have acquired necessary qualifications (in line with the modern challenges) and enjoy favorable working conditions. Therefore, it becomes imperative to persist in the implementation of the “social-conditionality measures” and that the states’ social and labor authorities properly enforce the national social-type legislation.
During recent months, farmers have raised their voice in protest in several states; these protests will continue as the EU proceed with the strategic dialogue on the future of agriculture, and, most probably, in summer during the European Parliament elections. During the long CAP’s history the EU-wide debates on food and farming, and states’ differences presented serious obstacles to finding solutions. Only by combining different perspectives, the EU can create new solutions and proceed with a growing common vision for the future of European agriculture.

Food quality
EU marketing standards are designed to ensure that the quality of the product remains high, that consumers are protected, and that standards are consistent within the EU market rules. They also facilitate trade with third countries as soon as they are consistent with existing standards at international level (adopted sines the 1950s). Over the last decade, agricultural markets have evolved significantly, driven by innovation but also by changing societal concerns and consumers’ demand.
To be placed on the EU markets and sold to consumers, most agro-food products must comply with EU marketing standards or internationally accepted standards. Marketing standards are dealing with the external qualities of products and the non-visible qualities that result from particular production processes (like fruit content in jams) and they apply equally to both EU-produced and imported goods. In April 2023, following a broad consultation process, the Commission elaborated a draft to ensure that marketing standards keep contributing to the promotion and uptake of sustainable products, while addressing new needs of consumers and operators, in line with the EU “Farm-to-Fork” strategy (it is aimed at making the food system fair, healthy and environmentally friendly) and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Note. The set of major Commission’s press releases on CAP’s implementation in 2024 can be seen at:

Recent survey
Finally, the Commission has launched in March 2024 an online survey to gather directly the views of EU farmers: it is open until the beginning of April. It is asking some very short questions, such as: How much time is spent each year on administrative tasks linked to application of aid and reporting obligations? Do they use mobile devices to provide geo-tagged photos? How do they rate the complexity of different procedures and rules applicable on farms? Did they use outside help to prepare the CAP aid application in 2023? The answers provided by farmers will provide valuable feedback to understand their main sources of concern.
The survey will help to identify the sources of administrative burden and complexity stemming from CAP rules as well as other rules for food and agriculture, both in relation to their application at national level and also to the recording and reporting obligations linked to them. The preliminary results will already be presented by mid-April and some interviews will be organized with farmers’ organizations to complete the picture.
This survey will provide by the summer a clearer picture of the main administrative obstacles perceived and faced by farmers. Its results will be included in a more detailed analysis to be published in Autumn 2024, aiming to clarify the sources of complexity for farmers: EU level, national level, CAP, and other requirements and policies.

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