Quo vadis, agriculture?

Agriculture Commission demands fundamental changes in our agriculture system

Ein Acker mit Traktorspuren.Click to enlarge
Many of the environmental problems in agriculture remain unsolved.
Source: Karin Jähne / Fotolia.com

A new publication by the Agriculture Commission at the Federal Environment Agency (KLU) proposes a fundamental reorientation of the agriculture system in five main areas: nutrient surpluses, food system, international agricultural trade, rural development, and digitalisation. Prof. Alois Heißenhuber, Chairman of KLU, comments: "There is hardly any other sector where the demands of economy and ecology are in such conflict. Whereas society expects the most affordable food possible, is it also demanding that agriculture leave as little ecological footprint as possible. Our paper shows how to set the right legal incentives but also calls upon farm businesses, the food retail sector and consumers to assume responsibility."

Nutrient surpluses of nitrogen and phosphorus in the agriculture sector as a result of excessive and inefficient fertilisation have long been the cause of serious environmental and climate problems. Only a fundamental structural transformation of agriculture which reconciles animal husbandry and farming can balance the excessive amounts of slurry in some regions and the lack thereof in others. The KLU recommends greatly reducing the use of mineral fertilisers and making better use of farm manure and slurry. To achieve this requires amendments to current fertiliser legislation and the development of agricultural advisory services with a focus on more environmentally sound fertiliser use.

The current food system is characterised by foods that are low-priced but whose production causes harm to the environment. This damage for the whole of society has not yet been factored into food prices and remains hidden from consumers. The KLU recommends that policy-makers introduce a national and independent food label which makes production methods transparent and enables eco-friendly purchase decisions.

International agricultural trade fosters global prosperity but also has its downsides. Fodder crop growing for the purpose of meat production can lead to deforestation of the rainforest and the displacement of indigenous populations. The KLU therefore demands responsible food exports, imports of certified products and the further integration of sustainability aspects in international trade agreements.

Rural areas are characterised by poor infrastructure and population decline and intensive agricultural production is concentrated in these regions. The KLU advises policy-makers to develop a new and universal model for rural areas which involves, above all, the agriculture sector, policy-makers and the people. This is the prerequisite for an environmentally just and target-oriented distribution of public funding. 

Digitalisation in the agriculture sector is making it possible to use resources more responsibly. However, increasing efficiency can aggravate existing problems such as cleared-out landscapes. The KLU therefore demands that policy-makers use of the digital transformation to promote the necessary reorientation of agriculture. Environmental protection must be factored into the public sector's efforts. Platform-independent data formats must be developed as well as clear regulations regarding the collection of machine and process-generated data.

UBA President Maria Krautzberger welcomed the proposals made by the KLU, saying, "There is much which must be cast entirely anew to make agriculture sustainable. The KLU has revealed fields of tension for which we must find solutions and has given important food for thought regarding the new orientation our agriculture system so urgently needs."

Umweltbundesamt Hauptsitz

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