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Green Deal: counter-proposals for carbon neutral agriculture scrutinized

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The European Commission’s project for a “green pact” for the transition to carbon neutral agriculture, submitted to the European Parliament last month, is causing a stir… Farm Europe, a think tank close to several eminent agricultural unions, also addressed its proposals on how the sector intends to lead its transformation during the holding of the Global Food Forum.

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This agronomic meeting, completed on Tuesday, November 16, had the ambition to “Make a Green Deal (“Green pact”, Editor’s note) a good deal ”. In particular was invited Christiane Lambert, the boss of the FNSEA, the first French agricultural union.

The deadline is known: the Commission aims for 2030 to convert 25% of European plots to organic, to reduce the use of pesticides by 50% or even fertilizers by 20%. “Everyone agrees on this objective which aims at carbon neutrality of the European agricultural sector”, entry pose Yves Madre, President of Farm Europe. “The question is how do you do it. Do we need more constraints and taxes? We take the bet to embark on innovation. “

Rationalized agriculture?

In a 149-page document, sent on the sidelines of the meeting, the interest group reviews all these methods which, put together, must make it possible to be in phase with the objectives. This involves switching to precision agriculture: targeted spraying rather than massive spreading, generalization of decision-support techniques, which, for example, make it possible to ensure weather conditions to optimize spreading. “The goal is not to say, we are going to use 20% less fertilizer but rather that we will generate no ‘fertilizer leakage'”, also sums up Yves Madre.

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Other techniques are recommended, such as the selection of resistant varieties and the improvement of crop rotation. For example, the introduction of legumes would make it possible, in certain regions, to reduce the use of pesticides on the plot and to improve the yield of subsequent crops. “Everything they offer, we see it every week in the magazine Agricultural France “, underlines Jean-Christophe Bureau, professor at AgroPariTech.

“Not a change of model”

“But where are we in the implementation? defends Yves Madre. Precision agriculture in France is less than 600,000 hectares (or less than 2% of agricultural land, editor’s note). The challenge is to make available to the greatest number what is today in the order of state-of-the-art technology. This requires placing an emphasis on training farmers in this area and also imposes aid to support these investments.

“These proposals are a juxtaposition of measures, not a change of model”, critic Cécile Détang-Dessendre, researcher at INRA, the Institute for Agronomic Research. “Of course, we can reduce the negative impact of agriculture through efficiency gains, but this will most likely be insufficient to reduce the use of pesticides by 50%. “

“Escape from the problems”

“In 2017, researchers from INRAconducted a study on a pesticide reduction program on farms, obtained using a variety of levers similar to those mentioned by Farm Europe, she explains. They managed to reduce the use of pesticides by an average of 30% without degrading the economic situation of the farm. Couldn’t do better. “

“Today, our agricultural model is reaching its limits: we have reached the maximum yield for many species, the possibilities offered by technical progress are reduced., continues Jean-Christophe Bureau. Damage to natural capital, be it soil, water or pollinators, is significant. This technical approach looks like a big derivative to avoid problems. Precision agriculture is sold as the environmental revolution. “

Need for sobriety

For this professor at AgroParisTech, it is impossible to do without a sobriety policy to achieve carbon neutrality objectives. What requires a change on the consumer side. “The most desirable path is that of a less meaty diet, he explains. On the other hand, I don’t think there is much room for food waste: it is not the manufacturers who are involved, but the consumers, at the end of the chain. It is much more difficult to act on them. “

This does not prevent pushing for innovations in the agricultural field. “We must not neglect any lever: the selection of varieties will bring something, precision agriculture will also play a role … But it would take a shock on demand, synthesizes Cécile Détang-Dessendre. We will not reduce methane emissions without reducing the ruminant herd. Farm Europe puts on the table assumptions, which I doubt are sufficient in view of the objectives. For its part, the Commission is undoubtedly going a little fast in its work by minimizing the efforts to be made. “

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