As the war in Ukraine continues, French farmers are allowed to cultivate fallow land in order to increase their production. The question now is whether the direction of the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will also be affected. EURACTIV UK reports.
In light of the war in Ukraine and given its position as a global exporter of agricultural raw materials, France must “assume Europe’s role as a supplier of food”, declared the French minister of agriculture. ‘Agriculture Julien Denormandie during a press conference on the outbreak of war. Since then, he has repeatedly urged farmers to increase their production.
To this end, the European Commission has approved a derogation from environmental measures to allow cultivation, mowing and grazing of areas left fallow for ecological purposes.
According to EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski, this is an “exceptional and temporary derogation to allow the production of any crop on set-aside land this year, while maintaining the total level of greening payments for farmers”.
In France, fallow land covers approximately 300,000 hectares, which can now be exploited for the cultivation of spring cereals, oilseeds and pulses. Only wastelands with beehives are not affected by these derogations.
However, this short-term exemption is not to everyone’s liking.
Green MP Benoît Biteau said in A press release that this corresponds to 2% of French arable land, i.e. a maximum production potential of 2.6 million tonnes of wheat.
It is probably much less because the land concerned is not very productive and not easy to cultivate, he explained. It is therefore “far from the necessary orders of magnitude”, he said.
What impact will this have on France’s CAP plan?
In the long term, the question now is how France will modify its approach to its CAP strategic plan in light of recent developments.
Through these plans, which were submitted to the European Commission before the war in Ukraine, EU countries explained how they intended to achieve the nine European objectives of the reformed CAP.
France received a letter from the European executive on March 31 in which it reported numerous shortcomings in its plan.
The letter criticized in particular a lack of “environmental ambition” and the application of so-called eco-schemes, – incentives paid to farmers who voluntarily adhere to environmentally friendly practices, decided at the state level.
These regulatory concerns highlighted by the Commission are difficult to circumvent, which means, for a few days, the associations lobby the government to thoroughly review its national strategic plan.
On fallow land in particular, the associations fear that France will extend their cultivation in the future. In the new strategic plan, there is – for now – an obligation to have non-productive areas, including land set aside, covering 4-7% of the land used.
However, the issue of fallow land will be brought up for “discussion in due course” by the EU’s agriculture commissioner, Denormandie told a press conference following the April 7 European Agrifish Council. In other words: nothing is decided yet.
Another key issue raised, the eco-schemes, the new voluntary system rewarding farmers for their environmental practices, in the French plan rewards crops certified organic and High Environmental Value (HVE) in the same way.
However, the HVE label has been criticized since the beginning of its integration into the national scheme, because its specifications are much less restrictive than those of organic farming.
This derogation from the principle of conditionality of aid, particularly reinforced in the new CAP, is now likely to be reviewed by the government.
According to Mathieu Courgeau, president of Pour une autre PAC, this conditionality is one of the “points which concern the regulations and which will have to be modified in the PSN. France has no choice.
“The Commission cannot write a blank cheque,” he stressed.
It is, however, unclear what will happen to the national strategic plan, particularly in light of the presidential election on Sunday (April 24), in which Emmanuel Macron and far-right leader Marine Le Pen are due to clash.
If Macron is re-elected, the ministry will maintain “the objective of validating the NSP by the summer”, the French ministry told EURACTIV. Otherwise, things are less certain.
As France prepares its corrections at national level, the Ministry of Agriculture and Food told EURACTIV that “each of the Commission’s observations will be studied”, “after consulting the stakeholders”.
“The context of the war in Ukraine, by restoring the imperative of food sovereignty, also impacts, along the way, the process of reviewing PSNs in the middle of the procedure”, explained the ministry.
However, for the collective Pour une autre PAC, expectations are low. “We can’t unravel the NSP any more than that. We can’t do less,” Courgeau said.
[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]