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“Sustainability vs. Productivity to Maintain Food Security: What Balance for Polish Farmers?”

On June 14th, 2022, the Federation along with its partners Energiadlawsi.pl, Gardening sector Core Team, Polish Fruits & Vegetables Association, and Agroekoton Association, organised a webinar on sustainability and productivity of the Polish and European agriculture sectors.

The webinar was moderated by Mirosław Korzeniowski, PhD, from Agroekoton Association and counted with the participation of Krzysztof Kielak, deputy director of the Department of Plant Breeding and Plant Protection from the Polish Ministry of Agriculture. Other distinguished participants included:

  • Witold Boguta, President of Polish Fruits & Vegetables Association;
  • Prof. Kazimierz Tomala, PhD, Vice-Chancellor for Development & First Deputy Rector, Warsaw University of Life Science;
  • Miroslaw Biedron, founder of MyZbieramy.pl portal;
  • Pascal Michaux, Managing Partner, EU Focus;
  • Prof. Piotr Gołasa, PhD, Warsaw University of Life Sciences, Prof. Pmijewski Association for efficiency;
  • Richard Maycock, Agriculture Regulatory Affairs Expert;
  • Michal Grzbiela, Regional Marketing Manager – Insecticides & Speciality Crops, North Europe.

Mr Korzeniowski made an opening speech introducing the main topics of the event. The goal was to discuss and address significant EU legislative changes such as the reduction of pesticide use and other environmental challenges for EU Member States. The discussions covered the Green Deal, Fit-for-55 and Farm-to-Fork strategies, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic and the current war in Ukraine.

The first interview was held with Mr Kielak, who presented the challenges of implementing the sustainable development goals during the current food safety crisis. Mr Korzeniowski outlined that the goals set by the EU, i.e. the reduction of the use of pesticides by 50% by 2030, may increase the costs while decreasing the production. Mr Kielak pointed out that the Polish Ministry of Agriculture is acting to mitigate those risks and underlined that the legislative agenda is still not enforceable law. Kielak advanced that the revised Pesticide Directive will incorporate amendments thanks to the Polish advocacy efforts to influence the decision-making process of the EU. The Ministry senior official also pointed out the need for gaining autonomy and becoming independent from imports from outside the EU, a matter in which the Polish MoA is very engaged at the European level. As underlined by Kielak, the Polish position is very clear: all the legislative changes should be based on a thorough scientific impact analysis that determines any potential effects and implications, as well as presenting realistic scenarios of the use of plant protection products that can maintain the current productivity levels of the European agriculture. Poland considers this to be essential to maintain food safety in Europe.

Kielak also underlined that any events and developments that can influence food safety in Europe, such as the war in Ukraine, should be taken under consideration by the EU institutions when amending legislation. The Polish MoA senior official highlighted that farmers cannot be left without the proper tools and measures that allow them to maintain the level of productivity. That is why farmers must be presented with efficient and cost-effective alternatives in case of imposing any restrictions on active substances used in the agriculture sector.

Kielak concluded by reminding the audience that the current Minister of Agriculture, H. Kowalczyk, is very active in the discussions held at the EU level and represents a constructive player that is committed to find solutions that would secure the competitiveness of the Polish agriculture.

Secondly, Mr Korzeniowski held an interview with Witold Boguta, the President of Polish Fruits & Vegetables Association. Mr Boguta focused on the production of fruit in Poland and offered data on consumption and export possibilities. Boguta underlined different political elements that influence the Polish trade, such as the Russian embargo on apples and its consequences. Boguta stressed that with the Russian market down, Poland had to deal with a significant surplus of fruit which could either be exported to different markets or redirected to domestic consumption in Poland. Boguta informed that in the latter case, his Association offers a special promotional fund which can be supported financially by different partners.

The next talk was with Prof. Kazimierz Tomala, PhD, Vice-Chancellor for Development & First Deputy Rector, Warsaw University of Life Science. He focused on transport and storage of fruit and vegetables, as well as production losses which are covered by the Farm-to-Fork strategy. Tomala explained that Poland is currently very competitive in this field, as they have recently started implementing measures to reinforce these time-sensitive processes. Some measures include ultra-low oxygen environment and the use of 1-MCP substance to limit the product’s breathing. This solution not only extends the product’s consumption date but also allows to save energy by 30%, presenting a way to limit the climate impact while enhancing production and trade.

Another guest was Mr Miroslaw Biedron, the founder of MyZbieramy.pl portal dedicated to self-collection of fruit by consumers at the local farmers. Such a solution is well known in the West and is cheaper than buying fruit at stores, while also enabling direct cooperation between consumers and farmers. According to Biedron, this is a perfect example of shortening supply chains which is one of the EU goals.

Pascal Michaux, Managing Partner at EU Focus, elaborated on European legislative proposals, including the agriculture sector-oriented ones, as well as challenges that the EU will face in terms of the current political situation with the war in Ukraine. Michaux welcomed some changes in the decision-making process, for the older schemes proved not to be efficient for active substances risk assessment. Conversely, legal and regulatory provisions are becoming increasingly complex. Michaux presented some examples where legislative amendments have been successful and impactful, pointing out that it could be an interesting tool to deal with the challenges posed by the war in Ukraine in terms of food supply and food security. Therefore, he advocated for the benefits of pesticides use with a balancing rather than a restricting exercise. Michaux hopes that forthcoming amendments to the Pesticides Directive will help balance the provisions by taking into consideration that the agriculture sector is increasingly digitising to mitigate the risks. In Michaux’s opinion, a balance must be found between the Green Deal (and its connected strategies) and new tasks that the farmers will face, as not only they will have to secure food supply for Europe and beyond. In agreement with the Polish position, Michaux concluded that sustainable development is best understood as a balanced approach to use conventional plan protection active substances, biopesticides and the growing role of digital solutions.

Furthermore, Piotr Gołasa, PhD, SGGW, Prof. Żmijewski Association for efficiency, reflected on productivity under the Green Deal scheme. Golasa underlined that the Green Deal is a climate protection-oriented strategy in response to the biggest challenge of our days. Still, costs to consumers and farmers are a necessary consequence from the actions aimed at protecting the climate. Golasa thinks that in order to achieve balance, the agriculture of the future should benefit from all possible solutions, including the use of regular plan protection active substances, biopesticides and technology. He also mentioned that to persuade farmers to develop greener production, clear incentives such as training or financial support (EU funds support) are needed.

Mr Korzeniowski also held an interview with Richard Maycock, Agriculture Regulatory Affairs Expert who claims that the Farm-to-Fork strategy disregards any benefits of plant protection products. Whereas the EU green strategies make sense, there is no one-fit-all solution and a more granular approach is needed to secure sustainability in food production. Maycock expressed his concern about new legislation that assumes long-standing resignation from old chemical industries without considering the developing technologies that may make chemistry work in better, more efficient ways. Maycock based his views on several examples of the soil fumigation. Maycock also underlined that the approach should not be that of rejecting all new and planned provision, but rather one of balancing goals with reality.

The last speaker was Michal Grzbiela, Regional Marketing Manager – Insecticides & Speciality Crops, North Europe, who discussed the role of copper in balancing productivity and food safety in terms of the sustainable development. Grzbiela underlined that copper is a metal that is allowed for use in the ecological agriculture and has been successfully used since the 13th century. In his opinion, nowadays, modern agriculture should be a mix of chemical and ecological solutions aimed at plan protection. Grzbiela stressed that copper has a multi-direct effect on plants and may help Polish farmers remain competitive, as it both ensures production quality and low prices of food.

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Concluding, the webinar’s main takeaway was that any new legislation must be balanced and take into account different aspects of the modern agriculture such as biopesticides and developing technologies. The participants also underlined that in face of the war in Ukraine, any amendments should be thoroughly analysed so that the EU can secure food supply while maintaining food security.