Farmers’ protests lead to reversal of drought measures in Spain

by Lorraine Williamson
Farmers' protests

While tractors blocked roads for weeks during the farmers’ protests, European agriculture ministers decided this week to “relax” several environmental requirements that farmers must meet in order to receive public money.

Almost “half of the environmental obligations of support under the Common Agricultural Policy” are no longer compulsory, but voluntary.

The Spanish Ministry of Agriculture welcomed the meeting in Brussels. Member States have agreed to suspend specific measures to address problems.

The Spanish organisations that took the lead during the farmers’ protests (COAG, Asaja and UPA) insist on one message. “Brussels has to let us continue to work”. Asaja’s secretary general, Eduardo Martin, said on Monday: “We need to change the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), there is no need for so many measures, so much bureaucracy. They should leave us alone and let us do our job.” The measures that are being scaled back have to do with fallow, overgrowth of fields and crop rotation. These were intended to halt the loss of fertile land – which is plaguing Europe and certainly Spain – and to stop its degradation. That is, to curb the desertification that is advancing from south to north as a result of climate change. According to the Spanish Ministry of Ecological Transition, 74% of Spanish territory is “prone to desertification”.

Also read: Spanish farmers continue to protest

Measures for fallow and vegetation

The obligation (to receive public money) to have a “minimum ground cover during sensitive periods” will be abolished. Basically, the minimum ground cover means that a minimal ecosystem exists on that soil for a few months, because something is growing. The purpose of this is to “prevent bare ground”. Bare soil can increase the likelihood of erosion from water runoff. In Spain, half of the farms applying for CAP support (almost 400,000) face a “serious risk of erosion”. That is, the areas where more than 25 tonnes per hectare per year are lost, according to the CAP strategic plan.

“The case of erosion is very clear: with vegetation you help agriculture because you protect the soil from the action of rain,” explains Martínez Valderrama. ” The relationship between agriculture and desertification in Spain is direct, because many of the scenarios of land degradation occur in these landscapes,” adds the researcher from the University of Alicante. On average, one hectare of agricultural land loses 30 tonnes of land per year, while the loss in forest land is estimated at 10 tonnes.

What is also on hold for a while is the reward if the minimum percentage of the surface area is not used for production. This can be fallow land, but also a pond or a hedge. This measure would benefit biodiversity.

Cogesa Expats

Crop rotation measure, pesticides and drivers

Another measure that was “relaxed” on Monday is that of crop rotation on farms. This means that you alternate the crops you grow. This helps to bring nutrients back into the soil without the need for fertiliser. In addition, it prevents the depletion of the soil and the spread of diseases.

In addition, the measures were also aimed at reducing the need to apply fertilisers. And promoting pest control without the use of pesticides, as well as the proliferation of pollinators.

Nature Restoration Act: PP votes against

The announcement came just 24 hours before the European Parliament approved the Nature Restoration Act. The conservative PP and the far right voted against a watered-down text to appease farmers.

Spokesperson for the PP in the European Parliament, Dolores Montserrat explained this opinion: “We have voted against the European law that deals a hard blow to farmers, pastoralists and fishermen. The PSOE and its far-left and pro-independent partners voted in favour. But we support these sectors in their legitimate demands.” However, part of the European Partido Popular has supported the new law.

“The CAP is a public policy designed to protect production and the environment,” said Ana Carricondo. “It should be focused on the public interest, not just economic benefit.”

Farmers’ protests lead to cave-ins; a wrong signal

“The relaxation of the measures sends the wrong message, which is that protesting leads to yielding,” said Jaime Martínez Valderrama, an agricultural engineer and expert on desertification. “And by doing so, the environment and agriculture are once again placed as two irreconcilable enemies. This is a fundamental mistake. Because these measures are not only an environmental issue, but are also good for agriculture. They just need time to become effective.”

According to Jaime Martínez Valderrama, “it is good to improve what is produced. If your water and soil are in good condition, it’s less expensive to produce. Because you don’t have to buy fertiliser. And if distributors’ margins go down, farmers’ margins can go up without the price for consumers going up.”

Farmers complain about increasing barriers to production

In addition to complaining about CAP bureaucracy and selling prices, farmers also feel that the green agenda limits their production capacity. “The repeal of the 50% reduction in pesticide use is welcome,” said Miguel Padilla, secretary general of the Spanish Organisation of Farmers and Livestock Breeders (COAG). However, changing the crops or setting aside fallow land are obstacles to increasing the harvest. And with that, for the sales revenues.” After meeting with the Minister of Agriculture, Luis Planas, Padilla said: “Of the 10 demands of the CAP, six have been reconsidered. It’s a step forward, but more is needed.”

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