Farms Facing Natural Constraints Play Key Role in European Agriculture

Farms facing natural challenges are less profitable than conventional ones but play a critical role in biodiversity and landscape preservation.

Cinque Terre, Italy
By Paolo DeAndreis
Aug. 15, 2023 17:09 UTC
Cinque Terre, Italy

A sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) funds in the European Union will go to farm­ers who oper­ate in dis­ad­van­taged areas in the next few years.

Among those are all farms fac­ing nat­ural con­straints such as steep slopes, arid regions or areas sub­jected to weather extremes. Olive and vine grow­ers in many regions qual­ify for these funds.

According to a report pub­lished by the E.U.’s General Directorate for Agriculture, €18.7 bil­lion will be directed to those farm­ers in the cur­rent CAP, which runs from 2023 to 2027.

See Also:Promoting Biodiversity, Improving Soil Health Are Key to Tackling the Global Water Crisis

The European Union esti­mates farms fac­ing nat­ural con­straints cover 47 mil­lion hectares of farm­land.

The money from the CAP rep­re­sents 17 per­cent of all fund­ing ded­i­cated to rural devel­op­ment and 6 per­cent of the funds pro­vided for by the national strate­gic plans which enact the CAP in each coun­try.

For the first time on record in the European Union, experts com­pared the per­for­mance of farms fac­ing nat­ural con­straints against con­ven­tional ones.

They found that even when sup­ported by CAP funds, the farms fac­ing nat­ural con­straints deliver 20.4 per­cent less income to farm­ers in moun­tain­ous areas and 26.5 per­cent less in other extreme regions.

While farms fac­ing nat­ural con­straints deliver lower yields, their activ­ity proved less harm­ful to the envi­ron­ment on aver­age, with a more sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of their land ben­e­fit­ing bio­di­ver­sity.

The sig­nif­i­cant pres­ence of grass­lands and fal­low land on farms fac­ing nat­ural con­straints reduced the risk of ero­sion and sup­ported soil health while also con­tribut­ing to the main­te­nance of the land­scape.

The wide­spread use of legu­mi­nous crops to improve soil fer­til­ity reduces the need for syn­thetic fer­til­iz­ers.

The data also shows that farms fac­ing nat­ural con­straints use less fer­til­izer and pes­ti­cides. In moun­tain­ous areas, the vol­ume of such prod­ucts is reduced by 55 per­cent com­pared to con­ven­tional farms.

When only per­ma­nent crops are con­sid­ered, crop-pro­tec­tion prod­ucts are used 56 per­cent less com­pared to con­ven­tional farms.

Extreme agri­cul­tural areas, such as the many steep slopes where olive farm­ers work across the Mediterranean, are con­sid­ered by experts highly sen­si­tive to the ongo­ing cli­mate cri­sis.

For most of the Mediterranean areas, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change fore­sees sig­nif­i­cant dam­ages from cli­mate change which in the next decades could become dis­as­trous,” Primo Proietti, a pro­fes­sor of agri­cul­tural and envi­ron­men­tal sci­ences at the University of Perugia, Italy, told Olive Oil Times.

Agricultural pro­duc­tion could undergo sub­stan­tial losses, and prod­uct qual­ity could also lower sig­nif­i­cantly because of tem­per­a­ture extremes, unpre­dictable rain­fall and floods and, on top of that, drought,” Proietti explained.

Climate change will also tend to boost pathogens, pests and weeds des­tined to impact the vol­ume and the qual­ity of pro­duc­tion,” he added.

According to Brussels, the aban­don­ment of bio­di­ver­sity-rich farm­land on farms fac­ing nat­ural con­straints and the end of agri­cul­tural activ­i­ties might eas­ily lead to fur­ther dete­ri­o­ra­tion of the eco­log­i­cal sta­tus of those areas.

Allowing farms fac­ing nat­ural con­straints to go out of pro­duc­tion would likely result in an over­all decrease of food pro­duc­tion in the E.U. and a con­se­quent inten­si­fi­ca­tion in already intensely man­aged farm­land. Therefore, CAP income sup­port is cru­cial,” the report’s intro­duc­tion con­cluded.

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