January 29, 2010
The rash of recent reports highlighting the issues of European farming and the environment, European farming and climate change and the pressure of population and urban growth on farmed land all concentrate attention on the basic dilemma of European agriculture policy development. The challenge can be reduced to one question: how to get more for less. How can food production be maintained and, more importantly, be increased while increasing handicaps are imposed on the industry?
The European Parliament’s agriculture committee concluded this week that agriculture would not only have to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions but also play a large part in reducing carbon emission reduction through improved sequestration. The Institute for European Environmental in a report for the European Commission says that farmers should be paid more to provide more environmental ‘goods’ (to compensate for producing less food presumably?). Earlier, researchers at Wageningen University published a report indicating that the area of land fit for food production is likely to diminish seriously during the next decades, as urbanisation takes up more of the best farming land.
All of these factors will inevitably reduce the agriculture industry’s ability and capacity to produce food, In terms of human welfare, this consideration would appear to override all these other concerns – particularly if the climatologists’ warning of reduced food production in the more climatically vulnerable parts of the world prove to be true. The essence of the problem is that Europe will, by the mid–century have to get its food supply from a smaller area of land, a large proportion of which will be less intensively farmed land than currently. The main production area will, because of environmental restrictions, have to produce more with less input of chemicals and fossil fuels. How is this to be done?
What is inevitable is that the real cost of food will increase, probably to the point where the production of biofuels from farm crops will become economically and environmentally nonsensical. Only fuel biomass production on very marginal land will still be economically and socially justified and viable.