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Quality arable land is decreasing every day, there are approximately 2.5 million hectares in the Czech Republic. Unless there is an exception, crops such as wheat, barley, corn or rape should not be grown on at least four percent this year, but this land should rest.
It is intended to serve as a fallow, on which grasses or nectar-bearing crops would usually grow, or for landscape elements such as draws and protective strips. Measures that will lead to an increase in species diversity and return insects and small animals to nature, farmers are forced to fulfill in order to receive the basic subsidies in full.
“We consider the condition of setting aside non-production areas as an opportunity to strengthen biodiversity, improve the mosaic nature of the agricultural landscape, help the water regime or limit erosion risks,” explains the Ministry of Agriculture.
The proportion of uncultivated land should gradually increase. Some farmers consider it too radical a step. On the contrary, farmers and ecologists more or less agree with the principles, but they have partial reservations.
“Practically, for us, this means lower sowings of common crops, lower production and sales, worse profitability or higher loss of production. In combination with the rising costs of ‘everything’, it is not a good combination,” said Petr Kubíček from the ZOD Brniště agricultural enterprise, which is the largest producer of turkey meat in the Czech Republic and cultivates 2,500 hectares of land.
“Each reduction in production areas contributes to higher unit costs of production, and therefore to more expensive food or to the escalation of farmers’ demands for higher compensation,” he added.
A number of agricultural enterprises claim that profits from crop production compensate for losses in livestock production.
According to the Agrarian Chamber, as a result of the measure, approximately 86,000 hectares of productive agricultural area will decrease in the next year. It is said that there is a threat that cereals such as wheat and barley will not be sown on 47 thousand hectares.
“These ambitious requirements for growers, which the Czech Republic has set much more strictly than in many other member countries of the European Union, may ultimately make food production more expensive,” warned the president of the Chamber, Jan Doležal. It is feared that the production of corn for grain will also decrease, and thus also the production of fodder for livestock.
According to the largest agricultural estate organization, the decrease in arable land will lead to a decrease in self-sufficiency, price fluctuations and greater pressure on food imports, especially pork.
Farmers will lose 185,000 tons of wheat, 70,000 tons of barley, 46,000 tons of rapeseed, 160,000 tons of fodder, 22,000 tons of corn for grain and 150,000 tons of sugar beet, according to an analysis by the Agrarian Chamber, which estimated that Czech farmers due to the tightening of conditions they will lose 2.7 billion crowns per year.
The Ministry of Agriculture reassures that the Czech Republic is 155 percent self-sufficient in cereals and 185 percent in wheat.
“There is no threat of famine”
Some farmers see the warning as exaggerated. Jan Štefl, vice-chairman of the Association of Private Agriculture, argues that, in addition to increasing biodiversity, the measure can have a positive effect by correcting excessively low prices of agricultural commodities – although production will decrease, the price will increase, which is unfavorable for farmers today.
“There is little emphasis on one problem of agriculture, and that is the price of primary production. There are large surpluses in Europe, which has an effect on reducing prices. It is therefore logical that the EU says: Don’t grow so many cereals, do something for the countryside and we will compensate you to some extent. The price of primary production will partly increase with the reduction in production,” believes Štefl.
According to him, in areas where there is a lot of domestic production, such as milk production or cereal cultivation, there is no harm in reducing the volume.
However, for pork, for example, self-sufficiency is decreasing, approximately half is imported from abroad. The Czech Republic can’t even get enough of poultry or eggs.
“The EU is leading the way that similar measures can be taken if there is no threat of a shortage of food and agricultural commodities. That’s why, for example, an exception applies this year and it was possible to sow eels,” Štefl reflects the concerns of some farmers who warn of a food shortage.
The Chairman of the Agricultural Union, Martin Pýcha, reminds us that the mentioned goal of ten percent is a vision on paper in the European strategy, but it has not yet been transferred into any legislation. However, the union, which represents a number of sales cooperatives, primarily bringing together medium-sized farms, does not see this as a good direction.
“When you cannot manage on four percent, costs rise quite logically. You usually rent the land, but you don’t have any production from it. When you have a nectar belt there, you have to take care of it too. The costs remain, the economic realization from it is zero,” he said.
He described the measure as technocratic. “It doesn’t make a difference if it is the best agricultural land in Hana or if it is land somewhere in the foothills,” he said, adding that the association suggested that, with the help of precision agriculture and yield maps, ideally, less efficient land should be set aside as non-productive, where crops fails.
Farmer Jan Basař from Podkrkonoší says that it is necessary to better distinguish how the farmer fulfills the new obligations.
“It would be good to specify the conditions so that the farmer only has to have five percent, but implement measures that will really help the landscape. And not that he only mulches fallow twice a year on his barren land and nothing lives there anyway,” he said. According to him, for example, nectar-giving belts, which are teeming with the life of small insects, are beneficial.
In general, they are rather small farmers who have no problem with the upcoming tightening of conditions.
“We are in the Highlands, where we have no problem finding less fertile land. They may have a bigger problem in Polabí, for example,” says farmer Petr Sýs from Novotinky Farm.
He reminds that the pressure on nature through intensive agriculture is much greater than decades ago, when industrial fertilizers and chemicals were not used. “Insects and small animals will return to some of the areas, the soil will be put to rest and it will benefit it. It can reduce erosion and increase productivity,” he added. According to him, there will definitely be no threat of famine.