THE Dutch took over the helm of the EU’s rotating presidency on January 1* and plan to closely monitor the agricultural market situation – particularly dairy and pigmeat – and examine ways to promote climate-smart agriculture by the end of its six-month tenure.
Following the adoption of the legally-binding climate accord in Paris at the beginning of December, the Dutch would like to focus on how agriculture can be part of the ‘climate solution’ in providing food for nine billion people by 2050 in an environmentally-sustainable way. The small country – home to roughly 70,000 holdings – is taking the lead on climate-smart agriculture, promoting efficient and sustainable production systems with higher productivity levels.
Among its other priorities for the first half of 2016, The Hague is seeking to finalise a deal on the reform of organic legislation by the end of June and raise awareness about antibiotic resistance on farms. They will also push for the simplification of farm policy rules, with Dutch officials quipping that ‘farmers are not bookkeepers.’ The future of European agriculture and how to better market its high standards in third countries is also on the Netherlands’ agenda.
Knowledge, research and innovation are key to driving sustainable intensification, officials underline, adding that the value of their country’s agricultural exports is second only to America, a country 200 times its size. This is no doubt helped by the fact that one of the world’s busiest ports - the Port of Rotterdam – is located on its territory.
The UK ballot on whether it should withdraw from the EU – the so-called ‘Brexit’ – was the major talking point at this year’s Oxford Farming Conference held at the beginning of January.
My colleague, Ed Bray, flew the Agra Facts flag at the event, as I enjoyed an extended stay on the family farm in Dunbeacon. There are some advantages of being the boss – although I might have opted for warmer climes had I known about the incessant rain!
The timing of the UK referendum is still unclear – it is scheduled to take place before 2018 – but the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron dropped some hints in Brussels before Christmas that it could be as early as this summer. A British decision to leave the bloc after 42 years would have far-reaching consequences on Ireland’s future trading relationship with its nearest neighbour – which is home to more than 600,000 Irish-born people and up to three million second-generation Irish – as the two economies are so closely intertwined.
Recent figures suggest a Brexit could reduce trade flows between the two countries by 20%, with trade barriers pushing up the prices of UK imports to Ireland. During EU Farm Commissioner Phil Hogan’s address at the high-level gathering in Oxford on January 7, he was clear that if London leaves, UK farmers could end up with less subsidies, less influence over trade deals and still have to meet strict Community requirements with no say over them. With trade going up the agenda in 2016, he pointed to the EU’s weight in negotiating deals he said were beneficial to UK farmers. “It could take the UK years to negotiate trade pacts with Korea, Canada and so on – deals the EU has already successfully completed”, the Irishman added. One thing is for sure Ireland’s agri-food sector – worth around €9 billion constituting around 5% of Irish GDP and 8% of employment – is a key area that would take a hit if the UK decides to leave the EU. With a general election around the corner, farmers need to put the heat on politicians to see what sort of contingency plans are in place to mitigate the impact on the ground and ensure their interests are protected.
• Rose O’Donovan is the Editor-in-Chief of the Brussels-based publication AGRA FACTS & a regular contributor to the video platform www.vieuws.eu
• Check out our Dutch ‘Top 5’ under ‘Food & Agriculture’