"Exception only applies to 2023": Özdemir plans to expand grain cultivation

Because of the Ukraine war, the global grain supply is faltering.

"Exception only applies to 2023": Özdemir plans to expand grain cultivation

Because of the Ukraine war, the global grain supply is faltering. In the fight against the food crisis, Minister of Agriculture Özdemir wants to enable farmers to sow additional grain. Greenpeace sees the protection of soil and species threatened by the relaxation of the requirements.

In view of the strained international agricultural markets as a result of the Ukraine war, farmers in Germany can use more land for growing grain. To this end, the new EU regulations on set-aside and crop rotation are to be suspended once in the coming year. The aim is to secure the supply of food. This is a compromise proposed by Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir. "I take everyone at their word: I make this compromise for the plate, not for grain to end up in the tank or trough - and our exception is expressly only for 2023," he emphasized.

The farmers' association welcomed the step and emphasized that the Green politician's proposal came at the last minute. Approval also came from the federal states and from the coalition partner FDP. The environmental organization Greenpeace, on the other hand, accused Özdemir of giving in to pressure from the agricultural lobby.

Özdemir wants to enable farmers to use agricultural land for the cultivation of certain crops for food production for longer. The additional species protection areas actually planned are not to be introduced until 2024. Farmers could then continue to grow food on these areas in the coming year.

The background to this are EU regulations that will take effect from 2023, according to which part of the agricultural land is used for species protection and, in addition, the cultivation of the same crop two years in a row on the same area should no longer be possible to protect the soil. However, Brussels had left the implementation of the requirements to the respective EU states. Özdemir has now submitted his proposal to the federal states for the implementation of the Commission's decision, which envisages suspending crop rotation and set-aside. According to the information, he needs the approval of the countries.

According to the ministry, the first mandatory set-aside will be suspended once in the coming year. Instead, agricultural cultivation should continue to be possible, "albeit limited to the production of food in line with the objectives of the Commission proposal, and therefore to the crops of cereals (without corn), sunflowers and legumes (without soybeans)," it said. This only applies to the areas that were not already designated as fallow arable land in 2021 and 2022: "The existing biodiversity areas will continue to be protected and can provide their services for nature and species protection as well as sustainable agriculture."

In addition, according to the information provided, the EU has followed Özdemir's suggestion and is allowing an exception when changing crop rotations. The corresponding regulation will be suspended once in 2023. This would allow farmers in Germany to exceptionally grow wheat after wheat on around 380,000 hectares. According to scientific calculations, up to 3.4 million tons of wheat could be grown in this way. This is the best way to "keep the grain yields in Germany stable and thus contribute to the stability of the world markets," it said.

Özdemir said Russian President Vladimir Putin is toying with hunger, and he is doing it at the expense of the world's poorest. At the same time, hunger is greatest where the climate crisis is already having serious consequences. "For me, therefore, every measure to solve a crisis must be checked to ensure that it does not exacerbate another," said the Green politician. Agriculture in Germany made an offer to calm the grain markets by maintaining production. Farmers now know what they can sow in a few weeks.

The President of the German Farmers' Association, Joachim Rukwied, welcomed the proposal. "This decision was overdue and comes at the last minute." The farmers have already started planning cultivation for the coming year and need planning security. A suspension for one year is certainly not sufficient from Rukwied's point of view. In order to continue to guarantee a secure food supply and to be able to react in times of crisis, all areas must be able to be used on which it makes agricultural sense. The federal states would now have to confirm this quickly.

Özdemir has finally given in, said Baden-Württemberg's Minister for Food, Rural Areas and Consumer Protection, Peter Hauk, who is also spokesman for the Union-led agricultural departments of the federal states. Bavaria's Minister of Agriculture, Michaela Kaniber, called it "overdue to now use the leeway that the EU Commission has opened up and thus take responsibility for food security". The deputy chairwoman of the FDP parliamentary group, Carina Konrad, called for the regulations to be implemented quickly and legally, as the sowing is imminent.

Greenpeace expert Matthias Lambrecht, on the other hand, criticized the fact that the areas for protecting biodiversity in agriculture were being sacrificed to economic interests. "But food security in times of war is just a pretext for plowing under valuable biotopes," he said. Wheat grown there would not be available until next year and in insufficient quantities to effectively counteract the acute global hunger crisis. By phasing out biofuel, on the other hand, a multiple of the amount of grain could immediately be made available for the fight against hunger.

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