European farmers have an excellent chance to profit from the drive towards replacing imported fossil fuels with home-produced biofuels, says the EU Commission president.
Addressing the International Green Week in Berlin – Europe’s largest food and farming event – Jose Manuel Barroso said farmers had a key role to play in the “low carbon revolution” that Europe was trying to stimulate.
“The reform of the CAP, in particular the move to cut the link between support and production, has to some extent prepared the ground by enabling you to concentrate production on what the market demands,” he said. The EU was also encouraging farmers to produce biofuels through specific energy crops scheme and the possibility of using set-aside for non-food crops.
The recently-annouced EU energy policy, which sets a mandatory target of 10% biofuels in road fuels by 2020, would also have a positive impact on farm incomes and halt the trend towards converting agricultural land to other uses.
EU farm commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel agreed that biofuels represented a big opportunity, particularly for those adversely affected by sugar reform. But she insisted that a balance would have to be found between biofuel production and food production. It would, therefore, be necessary to turn to imports. “The commission will ensure that imports come from diverse sources and ensure environmentally sustainable practices,” she promised.
German farm leader Gerd Sonnleitner revealed that 13% of the country’s total cultivated area was already being used for bioenergy. “Our farmers are now producing bioenergy and renewable raw materials on 1.6m ha (4m acres), compared with just 0.8m ha (2m acres) five years ago,” he said. “An increase in the area to as much as 3m ha (7.4m acres) is being forecast.”
Mr Sonnleitner insisted that German farmers would continue to be primarily food producers, “one reason being the natural limits imposed by the principles of crop rotation”. But he predicted the country would have little difficulty achieving its target of having 12.5% of its electricity produced by renewable sources by 2010.
Bioenergy was already delivering E6.3bn (£4.3bn) in revenue and had led to the creation of 65,000 jobs, he added. With fuel duty now being levied on biodiesel, the industry was also starting to pay back some of the start-up money made available through tax exemptions.
“Bioenergy is experiencing a genuine boom and has evolved into one of the largest growth sectors of the German renewable energy market,” said Mr Sonnleitner.
Agriculture minister Horst Seehofer gave his total support to biofuel production in Germany, which could help agriculture “free itself from the need for subsidies”. “However, a clear set of rules is needed to avoid overuse of soil by monocultures.”