European Commissioner for Agriculture Janusz Wojciechowski has said that the aim of carbon emissions targets is “not to reduce the production and not to reduce the productivity”.

“Using digital technology, it is possible to reduce the [farm] input but have the same, maybe more, output. This is a very important part of the [CAP] reform,” he told an Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA) webinar this week.

His comments are at odds with the recommendations for reduction of the national cattle herd proposed by the Climate Change Advisory Council on Monday.

The webinar, on the future of the CAP, was attended by a range of agricultural and European policy stakeholders.

Maintain production

Commissioner Wojciechowski made clear that the EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy, which should inform each individual member state’s CAP strategy, does not recommend reduction in agricultural productivity or food production.

The Polish Commissioner cited the need to protect Europe’s long-term food security and the current and future advancements in farm digitalisation as factors which should encourage and enable farmers to produce greater output from less input.

Highlighting the opportunities to be gained through “precision farming”, he listed advances in the efficient use of fertilisers, reducing the use of pesticides and improving soil fertility and noted that countries such as Germany and Finland have increased production with less inputs in this way.

Reducing food miles

Commissioner Wojciechowski described the challenge of improving the “transport systems” for EU food in detail and noted this as a key area where gains can be made in reducing carbon emissions and preventing pollution.

“There is another problem: our organisation of the food system. We cannot service the increasing demand for the transport needs of agriculture. From 2017 data, we know that each year we transport 3bn tonnes of agricultural and food products across the EU. The average piece of food is transported 180km.

“It is possible to reduce this transport need. It is also mentioned in the Farm to Fork strategy.”

He outlined the need to develop shorter supply chains and support local production but clarified that this is not possible to the same level across all EU member states.

“The Irish farmer’s milk and beef production is many times more than national consumption and this leads to the need for exports which require transport.”

Farmer buy in

In his opening address, Wojciechowski stated that when considering CAP: “The strategy must be based on evidence and analysis, as well as the views of experts, farmers, and other stakeholders.”

“I would like to stress that these voluntary measures must be used strategically. They must appeal to a wide base of farmers.

“For example, Ireland has a wide base of dairy and beef farmers. While these sectors present sustainability challenges, Irish farmers have already shown their ability to produce with a lower carbon-footprint.

“This should be further supported and advanced with eco schemes and rural development funding, in areas such as precision nitrogen and fertiliser application, agro-forestry, and extensive livestock production.”

Full analysis of Ireland’s first carbon reduction budgets launched by the Climate Change Advisory Council is available in this week’s Irish Farmers Journal.