Rating B (Moderate Progress)
Droughts and excessive heat caused by climate change make it increasingly difficult for farmers to produce adequate food. Climate change has led to less fruitful harvests and higher production costs, which has impacted both the quantity and quality of food produced in the EU.
According to Copa-Cogeca, an EU farmer’s union that acts as a united voice of farmers and agri-cooperatives in the EU and works to guarantee food security in Europe, agricultural land accounts for 48% of the EU’s territory. The average EU farm is run by farmers between the ages of 35-65 (63%), 31% of EU farms are run by farmers older than 65, and 5.6% of EU farms are run by farmers younger than 35. The EU primarily produces livestock products, grains, vegetables, fruits, wines, and sugar, with some of its popular export products including olive oil, wheat, and barley.
As of 2020, there were 9.1 million agricultural holdings in the EU 3.9 million (31.8%) in Romania. Poland followed Romania for the most significant number of agricultural holdings in the EU with 1.3 million farms (14.4% of the EU total), and Italy followed Poland with 1.1 million farms (12.5% of the EU total). The majority of these farms (94.8%) were classified as family farms, and approximately 67% of the EU’s farms were less than 5 hectares in size. 7.5% of the EU’s farms were 50 hectares or larger, with the remaining farms falling between 5 hectares and 50 hectares in size.
There are three distinct types of farms in the EU. One of these is semi-subsistence farms focusing on growing a high proportion of food to feed farmers and their families. 3.3 million of the EU’s total 9.1 million farms were categorised as semi-subsistence farms in 2020 and had a standard output below 2,000 euros per year in 2020. The second type of farm in the EU is small and medium-sized farms that are generally family-run businesses. In 2020, 2.5 million farms in the EU were categorised as small and medium-sized farms, producing an economic output between 2,000 euros and 8,000 euros per year. The final type of farm in the EU is a large agricultural enterprise that usually has a legal form or is a cooperative. 299,000 farms were categorised as large agricultural enterprises in 2020, producing a standard annual output of 250,000 euros or more. These farms were responsible for 56.4% of the EU’s farming output.
According to a 2022 study published in the European Journal of Agronomy, how farmers have adapted to new struggles posed by climate change varies between northern Europe and central and southern Europe. Climate change has made agricultural production conditions more favourable in northern Europe, as there are now fewer days with extremely low temperatures, allowing for a longer growing season. As such, farmers have adapted to climate change by changing the timing of field operations and introducing new crops that could not previously grow in northern Europe. In southern and central Europe, climate change has had adverse effects, such as lower predictability of rainfall, higher variability, and evapotranspiration, which is the process in which water is transferred from the land to the atmosphere by evaporation from the soil and transpiration from plants. In response to these challenges, southern and central European farmers have employed numerous adaptation techniques, including adopting drought-tolerant cultivars, rotating crops to improve water use, changing landscapes (hedgerows, butter strips, etc.), and expanding irrigation systems. Farmers rely on crop insurance, protection, and early warning/forecast systems to reduce economic losses from increased climate-related risks.
However, in northern and southern Europe, greater monetary support and transition assistance will be needed for farmers to adjust to climate change. EU farmers feel overwhelmed with the number of changes they are being asked to make by the EU and their respective national governments, with movements like the Dutch Farmer Citizen Movement (BBB) protesting in March against the Dutch government’s program that stated it would shut farms to reduce nitrous oxide emissions. Some farmers like Bram van Hecke, who works at his family’s dairy farm in Belgium, feel trapped between acquiescing to the environmental demands of politicians and working with supermarkets that are unwilling to pay higher prices. Van Hecke also notes how EU policies are increasing farming costs without providing farmers with a way to increase income. He cites an EU directive to tackle nitrogen pollution, costing his family’s farm 10,000-15,000 euros annually.
The vilification of EU farmers and the notion that they are damaging the planet has also placed a significant mental strain on EU farmers. According to the French Institute for Health, farmers are three times more likely to commit suicide than other professionals. Additionally, Boeren op een Kruispunt, an independent non-profit offering mental health counselling to farmers in northern Belgium, reported a 44% increase in mental health counselling requests in 2022 compared to 2021.
Thus, greater collaboration between policy experts and farmers will be essential moving forward so that policymakers can better grasp the needs of small and medium-sized farms and provide adequate financial assistance to cover increased costs spurred by environmental policies. While the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) currently subsidises farmers, CAP funding has decreased over the past years. An increasing amount of CAP’s money has been dedicated to environmental projects and side businesses, while the amount dedicated to food production has decreased. As a result, the EU should increase its CAP funding and ensure that it is dedicated to food production. The EU should also reshape how it discusses emissions from farming in a way that acknowledges the need to reduce farm emissions without further vilifying farmers.
This post was submitted by Climate Scorecard EU Brittany Demogenes.
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