Commission outlines plan to bolster agrifood sector against fertiliser crisis

Commission outlines plan to bolster agrifood sector against fertiliser crisis

Updated: 2 months, 19 days, 15 hours, 12 minutes, 41 seconds ago

The European Commission unveiled its communication on fertilisers outlining a number of measures designed to ensure the immediate availability and affordability of the key input amid the disruption caused by the Ukraine war.

The highly-anticipated communication, presented by the EU executive on Wednesday (9 November), comes on the back of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has sent shockwaves through the EU agrifood sector and caused the price of fertilisers to skyrocket. 

While the communication offers no legislative proposals, it sets out a broad game plan of short and long-term measures designed to strengthen the EU’s fertiliser industry, while simultaneously exploring ways to make EU farmers less dependent on fertilisers.

Stressing the impact of Russia’s “weaponisation” of gas, Vice-President Frans Timmermans emphasised the need to act swiftly to safeguard the sector.

“The more efficient we are and the faster we switch to alternatives for mineral fertilisers, the less we depend on fossil fuels and the more resilient our food system will be,” he said on the back of the presentation of the communication.

Meanwhile, EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski stressed the importance of this communication for farmers, who have been hard hit by the soaring fertiliser costs. 

“We cannot stand idle in the face of this situation,” he stressed, adding that a viable production of fertilisers in the EU is a “key requisite for our strategic autonomy and our continued contribution to global food security”.

What’s new? 

Concretely, the communication announces the launch of two new initiatives; a new market observatory designed to improve market transparency and a new European Innovation Council challenge on resilient agriculture.

This innovation council will offer €65 million to support AgTech start-ups for the fast development of “deep-tech innovations to maintain and improve crop yield with environmentally friendly technologies,” notably in the area of fertilisation.

Both initiatives are due to be launched in 2023.

EU fertiliser sector at a crossroads amid world's multiple crises

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has upended global agrifood chains. Besides causing major disruption in grain markets, the war has also sparked a global mineral fertiliser crisis, which has hit the EU hard.

Show me the money

Besides encouraging member states to prioritise fertiliser producers in the event of gas rationing, the communication sets out a range of options to financially support affected parties.

This includes financial support generated via measures such as windfall and solidarity levies. 

Meanwhile, the communication also leans heavily on state aid to offer specific support to farmers and fertiliser producers. 

“There is no different option but to approve the state aid in this very difficult situation,” Commissioner Wojciechowski explained in a press conference following the presentation of the communication, stressing this is needed to support both farmers and fertiliser producers.

Farmers will be able to benefit from the Commission’s recent decision to increase the ceiling for maximum aid under the temporary crisis framework to a record €250,000.

Meanwhile, on the production side, fertiliser producers will benefit from higher aid intensities and aid amounts of up to €150 million, provided they meet the eligibility criteria.

For companies receiving larger aid amounts, the communication sets out this aid will be tied to commitments to “set a path towards reducing the carbon footprint of energy consumption and implementing energy efficiency measures”.

Public authorities will also be able to purchase  fertilisers and offer them at lower prices to farmers, Commissioner Wojciechowski presented as a win-win for all involved.

“Producers will have the guarantee that they would be able to sell it and farmers would receive cheaper fertilisers,” he said, adding this could be “very effective”.

In the longer term, the communication places an emphasis on the role of the EU’s farming subsidy programme, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Via CAP national strategic plans (see below for more details), member states are expected to introduce amendments to help farmers use fertilisers more efficiently and sustainable, including facilitating access to organic fertilisers and nutrients from recycled waste streams.

International impact

In the international area, the communication also sets out commitments to cooperate with selected EU partner countries, including offering support to promote “alternatives to mineral fertilisers based on sustainable soil fertility management.

This includes a commitment to join the Global Fertilisers Challenge. Launched at the Major Economies Forum in June 2022, this challenge aims at alleviating fertiliser supply shortages through better nutrient management, increased fertiliser use efficiency, alternative farming practices and alternatives to mineral fertilisers.

The Commission will also initiate discussions on transparency improvements, including the avoidance of export restrictions on fertiliser trade in the World Trade Organisation (WTO), with the view to achieving deliverables at the next ministerial conference.

What is behind the EU’s fertiliser crisis?

Watch this video in Romanian or in Spanish.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sent the price of fertilisers skyrocketing in Europe. With prices for some types of fertilisers up by almost 150%, farmers are struggling …

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]

Background

National strategic plans (NSPs) are one of the main novelties of the reformed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which will run from 2023-2027.

Through these plans, EU countries detail how they will meet the nine EU-wide objectives of the reformed CAP while responding to the needs of farmers and rural communities.

In other words: While the European Commission will be setting out the general direction of the future CAP, the “how” will be up to national administrations this time.

Member states had until the end of 2021 to submit their national plans to the Commission for its approval, a process which is currently underway.

For more information on the CAP reform, see EURACTIV's coverage.

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