According to Merriam-Webster, scientists discovered ‘litmus’ in the 14th century. Litmus is a mixture colored organic compounds that turns red in acid solutions and blue in alkaline solutions and, thus, can be used as an acid-base indicator.
Here I refer to the more figurative version of a litmus test, to refer to any single factor that establishes the true character of something that can be used to make a judgment about whether something is possible or not. That one thing is the year 2030.
There’s a lot riding on 2030.
Most of the targets set forth in the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals are to be achieved by 2030.
In 2019, the EU adopted the EU Green Deal. A key pillar in the agreement is to transform and build a healthy food system that benefits people and the planet. This means a food system that is fair, healthy, and environmentally friendly.
To deliver on this mission, the Farm to Fork strategy lays out the prioritized areas the EU will work on from 2021 to 2027, including important targets:
- Making 25% of EU agriculture organic by 2030
- Reduce by 50% the use of pesticides by 2030
- Reduce the use of fertilizers by 20% by 2030
- Reduce nutrient loss by at least 50%
- Reduce the use of antimicrobials in agriculture and antimicrobials in aquaculture by 50% by 2030
- Create sustainable food labeling
- Reduce food waste by 50% by 2030
The strategy includes several areas to support these targets, most notably:
- A plan for integrated nutrient management
- New Common Agriculture Policy to support financing needs
- Revision of the Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive
The EU Green Deal has also triggered a massive amount of sector-agnostic regulations for larger corporations. The goal is to ensure a level playing field for more responsible business practices.
What does this mean for Agriculture?
Agriculture is the single largest employer in the world, with around three billion people (40 percent of the global population) depending on agriculture to pay for food and other costs of living. (Source: World in data)
Fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides are an essential part of the industrialisation of agriculture to help it achieve good quality food at scale. This is the model that farmers operate in as a result of the market dynamics in the agri-food system.
Nutrients such as nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) are essential elements for life and an important natural resource. However, surplus nitrogen and phosphorus in the environment are a probem. The overall environmental costs of all nutrient pollution in Europe are estimated at EUR 70–EUR 320 billion per year.
The EU is moving towards a more integrated approach to nutrient pollution, and over the coming weeks, we will unpack each of these regulations to highlight what it means for farmers on the ground.
What regulations are going to impact daily farming operations?
Below are some key regulations that will impact farmers, some as early as this year.
Sets stricter requirements for the use of pesticides and introduces new enforcement mechanisms for Integrated Pest Management, including mandatory use of electronic records. The sales of plant protection products will be monitored. The law is expected to be approved in 2023.
The new CAP is revised to provide more targeted support to smaller farms and allow EU Member States to adopt measures to local conditions. The policy includes objectives and measures to align it with the targets set forth in the Farm to Fork strategy. The policy introduces stricter conditions on certain CAP payments directly to farmers. It enters into force in 2023 and will run until 2027.
The communication of November 2022 confirms the EU’s targets to reduce fertilizer use and nutrient loss. The strategy defines the actions the EU will take to meet the targets, including a commitment to approve the Integrated Nutrient Management Action Plan early in 2023.
The action plan will define a roadmap of actions to ensure nutrient loss is reduced by looking at the full life cycle of nutrients across all sectors and all environments (air, water, etc.). Actions could include new regulations, updating current regulations, cross-sectoral collaboration etc. The draft is expected soon with the EU Commission approving it early in 2023.
Replaces the existing Farm Accountancy Data Network, which collects economic sample data from farmers. The Farm Sustainability Data Network will add environmental and social dimensions to be collected by Member States. The data to be collected has not been defined at this point, and reporting will be voluntary. The law is expected to be approved in 2023.
- EU Taxonomy (criteria proposal for agriculture)
The goal of the EU Taxonomy is to determine whether an economic activity is environmentally sustainable, or “green”. For the time being, only climate is addressed in the Taxonomy, and the agriculture sector is not eligible. A new draft for more environmental objectives does include the agriculture sector, but alignment with the objective requires meeting a range of technical criteria. We should expect to see progress on the draft in 2023.
What this means for farmers
Two words: Change and Compliance
Let’s start with compliance.
Compliance has been an integral aspect of agriculture for a long time, and it involves adhering to laws, regulations, and standards related to agricultural practices. Traditionally, a lot of this compliance has been done through manual or analogue means, such as logbooks, spray diaries, and physical inspections and audits.
However, with the new regulations, there is a shift towards digital documentation, which can streamline the compliance process for farmers. Instead of recording jobs, tank mix instructions, and spray logs in notebooks or on pieces of paper, farmers can now document this information digitally, which can make it more efficient, accurate, and easier to track.
Document once and you’re done.
Compliance on the farm plays an important role in the implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
This brings us to the second topic: change.
To comply with the regulatory requirements, farmers need to immediately start rethinking how they track and document their daily farming activities.
The best is to start with a simple tool with some free features, that you can test on your farm. Just like you think about the planning, planting, growing, harvesting cycle on your farm, think about your digital farm in the same way.
Change is extremely hard, especially when the current ways seem to be working. However, starting with small changes accumulates to bigger changes over time.
If you’re interested in finding out how we can help you with this change, drop us a message and we’d be happy to discuss.
How does this benefit farmers?
Finally, we come to the benefits for farmers in the short and long term:
- Digital records can be stored in one central location, making it easy to access and manage them.
- By digitizing compliance documentation, farmers can save time and reduce stress during audits.
- With digital records, farmers can easily provide evidence of their compliance when applying for subsidies or grants in the future.
- The EU Green Deal includes financial and technical assistance for sustainable projects in the agricultural sector, which farmers can benefit from by digitizing their compliance documentation.
- There may also be new revenue streams available to farmers through carbon sequestration, which can be tracked and reported through digital records.
- Digitizing compliance documentation can lighten the burden of documentation and reduce stress for farmers.
- By automating compliance documentation, farmers can save time and focus on other aspects of their business.
- Digital records can also be passed down to the next generation of farmers, providing a strong foundation and legacy of sustainable practices.
Read about the importance of getting started with digital documentation.