Portugal | Analysis
Estimated a global reduction in agricultural production in the EU-27 of 56.13 million tons by 2030 under 'Farm to Fork' strategy
Mário Carvalho, Professor at the University of Évora, and Nuno Marques, a Portuguese farmer, analyze the impact of the conversion of 25% of the agricultural area of the EU-27 to Organic Production for 2030 proposed by the EC.1/28/2021
The agricultural area of the EU-27 is 156.7 million hectares. In 2019, about 8% of this area was occupied with organic farming, that is, around 12.5 million hectares. In Portugal, the organic farming area represents 6% of the agricultural area.
The EU-27 intends that by 2030 25% of the agricultural area will be in organic farming, which corresponds to 39.2 million hectares, that is, an increase of 26.7 million hectares compared to 2019. The distribution of organic farming in the EU-27 and Portugal in 2019, is as follows:
It would be interesting to have data on the size of the abandoned permanent pasture areas and abandoned permanent crops, which were not productive and were converted to organic farming. This conversion did not contribute anything to society other than subsidies to areas that did not produce anything and that for the most part continue to do so.
The analysis that we will carry out assumes that all crop occupations are equally impacted by organic farming.
Main productions of the EU-27, with reference to the 2019 harvest, estimating the production in 2030, and taking into account the increase of 26.7 million hectares for organic farming with a reduction in productivity of 60% in this zone:
An overall reduction in agricultural production in the EU-27 is estimated at 56.13 million tonnes. This reduction will result in some cases in reduced exports and in others in increased imports. In the specific case of Portugal, it will translate into a significant increase in imports, as a consequence of maritime and road transport, and, consequently, of the food carbon footprint.
The reduction in agricultural production in the EU-27, the increase in world population and, consequently, in demand, will shift production to countries with regulations other than the EU-27. It will likely result in a reduction in EU-27 food security and an increase in the carbon footprint of the food consumed. Pressure is increasing in other areas of the planet that already have serious desertification problems. BIO prices are double those of non-BIO. Globally, there may be an increase in the prices of agricultural products.
What impact has organic farming had on the consumption of pesticides and fertilizers?
According to Eurostat data, the risk of pesticide use in the EU-27 fell by 17% between 2011 and 2018, on the one hand, numerous active substances that are more harmful to the environment were banned, on the other hand due to the use of new pesticides that are used in very low doses (amount of active substance per hectare).
Between 2011 and 2018, the consumption of pesticides has remained stable at 360,000 tons, despite the increase in organic farming to 13 million hectares (8% of the agricultural area) and the use of low-dose pesticides.
In fertilizers, consumption remains stable at 11.3 million tons between 2008 and 2018.
These data are not surprising, given the large increase in the area of organic farming and the technological evolution of pesticides and fertilizers.
It is concluded that although 8% of the agricultural area of the EU-27 is dedicated to organic farming, the consumption of pesticides and fertilizers, which should have decreased due to their technological evolution, remains constant. What's going on?
What is the evolution of the performance of the agricultural sector between 2005-2019?
Also according to Eurostat, there is an increase in intermediate consumption of 6% and in agroindustrial production of 12%, compared to 2005. These indicators indicate an increase in efficiency, since production grows twice as much as intermediate consumption, but aa our opinion yes Do not reflect, as agro-industrial production includes raw materials that were not produced in the EU-27.
In this period, Portugal shows growth in intermediate consumption slightly above 20% and in agro-industrial production slightly below 20%. The situation in Portugal is quite delicate, since the national agribusiness has a weight of raw materials imported from third countries and intra-community transactions much higher than the average for the European Union. The carbon footprint of Portuguese food is huge. These indicators also show that 8% of organic farming did nothing to reduce intermediate consumption. Regarding agro-industrial production, it can be reduced by 56.13 million tons in 2030.
The importance of soil
The improvement of soil functions is the answer to many of the current concerns of European and global agriculture, namely the adaptation and mitigation of climate change, increasing food production and improving efficiency in use. of production factors. The main functions of the soil are the supply of nutrients, water and oxygen to plants, the support of machinery and animals and the decomposition of the pesticides used in the production process. There are many properties of the soil that influence its functions, but the main one is its content of organic matter. The soil is a living body and the organisms that inhabit it, essential in all the aforementioned functions, are heterotrophic, that is, they need organic carbon as a source of energy.
An increase in the organic matter content of the soil also contributes to the mitigation of climate change, because together with the oceans, the soil is a great carbon sink. It is estimated that since the industrial revolution, the emission of carbon into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels was 270 ± 30 Pg (Pentagram = 109 tons), while the loss of organic matter from the soil due to changes in its use and its culture, in the same period, was 136 ± 55 Pg (Lal 2004).
To increase the organic carbon content of the soil, it is necessary to simultaneously increase the gains (added organic residues) and reduce their losses. The main anthropomorphic cause of carbon losses is soil mobilization, which increases losses through erosion and mineralization. The source of carbon in the soil is ultimately plant waste. When the increase in additions is done through the application of manure, what is being done is transferring carbon from one soil to another. Animals do not photosynthesize and, considering a 50% digestibility of their carbon by ruminants, to produce 500 kg of carbon in the form of manure, the animals have to ingest about one ton. To increase the organic matter of the soil with the application of manure, it is necessary to apply at least 20 tons of manure per hectare and year. Thus, it is evident that what is being done is transferring carbon from the soils that produced the food, to the plot that will receive the manure.
The agricultural system that allows increasing the soil content in organic matter is conservation agriculture. This system is based on 3 principles: do not mobilize the soil as a way to reduce losses; the return of plant residues to the ground, as a way to increase income; and crop rotation as a way to increase the biodiversity of the system. Organic farming, which also claims this goal, only succeeds in a fallacious way. By promoting soil mobilization, by prohibiting the use of herbicides, it increases soil carbon losses, which then compensates for the use of mass compost and compost applications. But in fact, this enrichment is done at the expense of wasting soil carbon over a much larger area than the beneficiary.
Long-term studies, carried out at the University of Évora, have shown that conservation agriculture can increase the organic carbon content of the soil at a rate of 0.1% per year (Carvalho and Lourenço 2014). This figure is surprisingly high, considering that the great challenge proposed, in the framework of the Paris climate change agreements, is an annual increase of 0.04%. In the same study, it was found that an increase in the organic matter content of the soil from 1% to 2% allowed a doubling of energy efficiency in wheat production (wheat produced per unit of energy expended in all production factors). Conservation agriculture thus increases soil health, productivity and intermediate consumption (which reduces the environmental impact of production) and, at the same time, contributes to the mitigation of climate change.
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