Apr. 24, 2019
By Sarantis Michalopoulos | EURACTIV.com
The Dutch government has launched a new vision for the country’s agriculture, which prioritises the protection of natural resources and the reduction of the sector’s environmental impact.
The new 2030 Plant Protection Vision is based on two principles: innovative plant breeding and precision or smart farming, which are both hot topics for the future of EU farming.
“Pesticides are important to ensure good, high-quality production. However, the current dependence on pesticides is such that we need a radical turnaround – also to reduce the environmental impact,” agriculture minister Carola Schouten said last week.
Schouten said the vision represented a “paradigm shift”. With the availability of more resilient plants and growing methods, the need to use pesticides will be less, she explained.
“And where pesticides remain necessary, their use should be ‘smart’ so as to minimise environmental emissions and assure the production of crops with barely any residues,” she added.
Under the Dutch plan, plants will be better protected from pests and diseases, with a minimum use of pesticides. “It aims to conserve nature and biodiversity, healthy species, and a clear economic perspective for farmers,” the Dutch ministry said in a statement.
Breeding ‘natural enemies’
In order to reduce dependence on pesticides, enhancing the natural defenses of plants should be at the core of the vision, the Dutch government said. Through plant breeding, plants will become more resilient to diseases and pests, it argues.
“A good, healthy soil that provides enough nutrients to the plant, also contributes to resilience. Wherever possible, growers should use natural enemies, by using them actively – as happens for growing vegetables in greenhouses – or by using and strengthening the natural resources available in the immediate surroundings (functional agrobiodiversity),” the ministry said.
The term new plant breeding techniques (NPBTs) describes scientific methods for the genetic engineering of plants to enhance natural traits like drought tolerance and pest resistance.
The discussion over NPBTs has taken center stage in Brussels since a European court ruled in July 2018 that organisms obtained by mutagenesis are genetically modified organisms and should, in principle, fall under the GMO directive.
The agri-food industry disputes the GMO classification, saying the plants obtained through these techniques might have occurred naturally or through conventional cross-breeding techniques that mimic natural processes.
To opponents, NPBTs are just another attempt at selling GMOs through the back door to European farmers who will simultaneously lose their right to use their own seeds. Their argument is that all these techniques should fall under the EU’s strict GMO approval process.
In a recent interview with EURACTIV.com, EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis said these new methods call for a new regulation, as they have nothing to do with GMOs considering that no foreign DNA is added to the plant.
Another element of the Dutch plan is the introduction of precision farming practices as a way to mitigate climate change through the decreased use of pesticides.
The Dutch ministry said precision farming helps better monitor the crops and soil, and provides early warning in case of risks.
“Pesticides may then be used in a targeted way. Where pesticides are needed, low-risk varieties are preferred, and (new) techniques are necessary to minimise the emission to the environment,” the ministry said.
The new delivery model of the post-2020 CAP grants EU member states flexibility to come up with their own CAP strategic plans fully adjusted to their various local needs.
In an interview with EURACTIV Romania in September 2018, EU agriculture commissioner Phil Hogan made it clear that from now on it would be up to the member states to speed up the introduction of innovation in agriculture.
“The budget for precision agriculture depends on the needs and the precise budget allocations within the overall CAP envelope that member states will receive,” Hogan said.
“The experience of the current CAP applied across 28 member states of varying climates, methods of production and traditions, shows that Brussels can no longer determine what has to be done in each and every member state,” the Irish politician said.