Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Wednesday, 19 January 2022

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Cost and Supply of Fertiliser in the European Union: Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development

Mr. Fabien Santini:

In general terms, I will comment on the Deputy's question. Within the farm-to-fork and biodiversity strategy, the EU is following conduct to make our food systems more sustainable. There are two aspirational targets that are relevant to the issues the Deputy has raised. The first is in the organic sector. We aim to reach to have 25% of the area of the EU covered by organic farming. Many member states are far from that level and I am sure Ireland is one. It is not the only one because many countries still have progress to make. There is a need to engage on this matter and use the CAP strategy plans. There has been a controversy between the member states and the Commission as to whether the member states themselves should decide on its targets. The overall goal for the EU is to reach an increase of organic farming in terms of area. If there is such an increase, production will also increase, as will sales. Organic farming has been very successful recently on the markets but we also need to boost demand further so the benefits we expect from the farming itself in biodiversity, climate change and many other elements are also picked up by the market. If we are producing organic food when there is no demand, there is no point. That is why the Commission last year adopted an organic farming action plan. There are many elements to that, one of which is that we are trying to beef up the demand for organic products. That is definitely a way forward.

There is another target of relevance in these documents, an important one which I mentioned in my opening statement, and that is the specific target for fertilisation. As the Deputy mentioned, artificial fertilisation and organic farming can have similar problems and a detrimental impact on the environment, in particular on water quality and climate change. As the Deputy said, nitrogen fertilisation is a source of greenhouse gas emissions within the agricultural sector. We are committed to a net zero economy by 2050 so we had better prepare ourselves. Carbon farming will offer a possibility to offset but the improvement of fertilisation practices, in terms of quantity, losses, recycling and using more organic fertiliser, is important. That is why one of the aspirational targets in the farm-to-fork strategy, repeated in the soil strategy, is to reduce by 20% the use of chemical fertilisers by 2030 to reduce nutrient loss. Nutrient loss is probably not Ireland's worst problem but it is a deep problem in other areas of the EU. We have an EU model, and I am not talking about Ireland, whereby we are importing nitrogen, turning it into animal production, exporting it and keeping the nutrient loss in the EU. That is a major issue. I am French, as the committee understands, and we have a region that is culturally of a like mind to Ireland, namely, the Celtic region of Brittany. There are terrible problems there with green algae because of nutrient loss. These are the kinds of things that have led to the aspirational target of reducing by 20% the use of fertiliser. That is something we will follow. If we have overall targets, we will monitor the measures that each of the member states adopts in its CAP strategy plan. We will discuss those measures with the member states and agree on a pathway to reducing these nutrient losses in every member state, depending, of course, on the urgency of the problem in the member state.

I will take another example. We will have more discussions about increasing the levels of organic farming with Ireland than we will with Austria, which already has organic farming in 20% of its area. France's level of organic farming is also quite low. That is the good of this reformed CAP. We are adapting. We will allow member states to adapt their instruments to the real priorities and overall objectives. One of the objectives is clearly to increase the level of ambition in our policies in terms of our climate and environment.