Posts Tagged ‘Policy’

Agricultural support schemes.

January 12, 2011

The agricultural support is often criticized. The market should rule like in other business activities. And support is troublesome. It is seldom right. “Those huge amounts going to agriculture”.  Well – there are problems. But it is important to look at proportions. The agricultural and rural support amounts to about 0.3  euro per capita and day, while the cost of a hamburger is maybe around 20 times that.

The agricultural share of GDP is about 2%, not because it small and unimportant but because of low prices on agricultural products. The price competition has been efficient.

But what is more important now: to further bring down the price for agricultural products or to  promote better environment and sustainability? There are discussions to use the agricultural support in that direction.

Consider this:

Which factors favour competiveness in the market?  Specializaton and rapid adaptation to marken demands.

And which favour good ecological function?  Diversity and longterm stability.   Just the opposite.

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Competitiveness – an important theme in today´s issue of Jordbruksaktuellt.

March 18, 2009

And that has been a subject in this blog for several days, maybe too much, looking back. Then it struck me the other day:

This is not only a local problem.

It affects the way mankind interacts with the biosphere – exploit or care and maintain.

The exploiter is most competitive and wins.

 

There are several examples in the journal, from diesel tax to animal welfare.

Shall we give up? No, absolutely not. There are many levels to work on.

 

  1. The farmer has measures to consider which increases both competitiveness and environmental function (management of soil organic matter, improved nitrogen management, precision farming, ecodriving). There are many examples in this blog (tag Focus Foresight).
  2. Help raise the issue to the global and principal level. If Swedish agriculture cannot be managed by taxes and rules in the long run, neither will it work in other countries. Which is not at all good for the biosphere. We get a development nobody wants.
  3. Push innovative thinking at all levels: agronomy, economy, social sciences.

 

Agronomy: more combined work on environment, economy and production.  There are more positive combination effects than expected. Quantify them and use them.

Economy: Taxes are efficient tools – if they comprise the whole market. But for a global mrket – work out better alternatives.

Social sciences: economy and technology is not sufficient.

Problems for the Swedish model – symptom of global system malfunction

March 17, 2009

It is sad to see the problems for the ”Swedish model” with a stronger environmental profile: taxes on diesel, nitrogen and plant protection chemicals, stronger animal welfare regulations etc. In cooperation with the farmers this has led to “the best agriculture in the world”. Some documentation, mostly in Swedish: www.greengard.se/landjämförelse.htm .

 

It has also led to higher costs, and the main task for the agriculture is to be competitive, according to the political and economical reality we live in.

 

 

This points to a general problem. Demands on environment or sustainability which increase costs will eventually strangle the agriculture in a competitive economy, if not compensated somehow or other. And then there is no progress, except maybe for cheaper largescale production in some areas.

This is not only about farmers – it is about the possibility for mankind to live on the biosphere without damaging it. This is a very big question about management of our global systems.

 

Tomorrow there will be more about positive opportunities.

 

Exchange diesel tax for nitrogen tax – it only gets worse.

March 13, 2009

Daily papers as well as agricultural press is full of arguments. The agriculture is hit by fuel taxes. At least “centerpartiet” seems to advocate scrapping the nitrogen tax as compensation. But – according to farmers organizations the fuel tax means SEK 1 billion for agriculture while the nitrogen tax is about 300 millions.

And there is another calculation to perform. Nitrogen is also an actor in the climate drama. If the tax i abolished the fertilizer use will increase and so the dinitrogen oxide emissions. Let us talk about GreenHouse Gas equivalents, GHG.

 

Consider cereal production. Removing the N tax means that the economic rate is increased by about 10 kg N per hectare. The yield increases by about 100 kg, According to guidelines from the climate panel IPCC we get increased emissions of dinitrogen oxide by about 90 GHG in the whole chain, provided nitrogen fertilizer from the best factories is used. For an average fertilizer it would be 130. To compensate the 90 we need to save 30 l diesel, almost half the present use. Not easy.

Exchanging nitrogen tax for diesel tax means an increase in climate gas emissions.

 

If nitrogen is that sensitive maybe we should change to organic production without fertilizers? For crop production that is no solution. The considerably lower yields and the N input from legumes means that organic production is not better concerning climate. A concrete figure from the 3rd rotation of the agricultural systems experiments in south Sweden:  per kg cereal the GHG emission is 0.27 for conventional production (according to the Swedish model with N tax etc) and 0.37 for organic.

 

If the N tax is removed the N leaching will increase by 2000-5000 tons. It is the N “at the top” which counts.

There must be better ways to compensate the Swedish agriculture.

Agricultural systems and economic sustainability.

March 9, 2009

 

A  project on comparison and development of sustainable and environmentally well functioning agricultural systems has been running since 1987 and continues. The first 18 years is now being reported in agronomic journals. Agronomically the project is successful. The characteristics of different systems have been clarified, there are data to use as a base for agronomic and environmental advice. However, it is relevant to ask to what extent such advice can be used in the world of today. A viable agricultural system must also be economically sustainable.

 

In the project mentioned several systems are compared, conventional and organic forms of both crop production systems and livestock systems. Organic production has its own special economic environment with both extra area compensation and a special niche market with higher product prices. The “conventional” systems operate on the normal market (based on world market prices) in the Swedish economic and legal environment. This differs from other countries, for instance UK. There are more costs and restrictions in Sweden and also a better environmental function. Can this situation be economically sustainable? What is needed to make it so?

 

Agriculture is part of the biosphere and affects the biosphere. The global biosphere is under stress (climate change, nitrogen overload, threats on biodiversity, to mention some issues). Agriculture is called upon to take its share in working with these problems. And there is a lot it could do. But the society has given it another main task: produce as economically efficient (cheap) as possible. Be competitive!

Politics and environment.

March 2, 2009

As mentioned in the post below Sweden is in a leading position concerning environment and agriculture. And in addition we have a comprehensive and expensive program för animal welfare. And there is a cost in competitiveness. Some might think this is not so serious. Our environmental programs have been there several years and the agriculture still exists. However, the agriculture reacts slowly, which is one of its handicaps in the world of today. But there is a slow negative effect.

And now there are black headlines saying that the government is not supporting an EU program on certificates of origin . How should it be possible to carry environmental costs when they are not paid for and the products cannot even be identified on the market? Is there any other alternative than to produce as cheaply as possible and press the limits also at the expense of the environment.

In fact, these problems have caused black thoughts for a few days. This policy is not what the world needs. However, let us look for openings and opportunities.

  • It is still possible to sell Swedish environmental quality to Swedish trade. And maybe also to the customers. But great information efforts are needed.
  • The brand Sigill exists. It has been difficulties with self financing. Could it be possible to give support with “environmental money”.
  • Direct compensation to the farmers for excess environmental costs.
  • An official investigation for answering the question: What is the probable development of world agriculture with only a global market economy as the guiding principle?

Promising developments.

November 20, 2008

Within EU an agreement on a new agricultural policy is reached, at least preliminary. More support to environmental measures, less direct to production. In this blog I have discussed the problems a global free market gives the agricultural production. And suitable environmental support might be the remedy needed.

 

Some items on my list of wishes:

 

Promotion of nitrogen efficiency.

Distribution of manure to avoid surpluses.

Promotion of knowledge and measures for biodiversity in agricultural landscapes.

Measures leading to a more restrictive use of chemical plant protection.

Longterm soil fertility maintenance.

 

It is also positive that promotion of low producing agricultural systems are not mentioned as a primary goal.  We need a high producing but environmentally benign agriculture.

 

Today, I have made a contribution at a course for advisors working with the Soil Fertility program of the project Focus on nutrients. A number of advisors will together with farmers work on improvements giving better environmental performance as well as full or even improved profitability.

Agriculture and the market

October 2, 2008

Our Agricultural Secretary and the market.

 

In forceful words the Secretary says the the agriculture shall be governed by the market and not by politicians. This in connection with the discussion in EU, where especially France argues for continued support via CAP.

 

There are different levels in this discussion. One is general support, another is environmentally related support/taxes/ rules, a third is regional development issues.

 

I am convinced that Mr Erlandsson does not mean that the Swedish nitrogen tax or the rules for manure should be abolished, which they should if only the market should guide the development.

 

And the big issue remains: the agriculture must consider longterm issues concerning soil fertility etc and that is difficult to handle by a shortsighted market. There are programs in many countries.

There is a risk that the market is exaggerated in the discussion.