Health for humans, animals & plants

Future crop production

Austria is a pioneer of sustainable agriculture in Europe, in which economic, ecological and social aspects are given equal consideration. In order to consistently develop this path further, the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Regions and Tourism (BMLRT) has initiated the strategy process "Future Crop Production". The aim of this strategy process is to develop modern solutions for crop production that guarantee security for farmers, consumers and the environment alike.

Challenges

Adaptations to climate change, the loss of fertile soils and innovations in crop production and plant protection are described as major challenges for crop production in the 21st century. The main issues are site-adapted, environmentally conscious production and management systems, breeding plants that can withstand heat and drought, or controlling heat-loving invasive plants and pests. To arrive at viable solutions, crop production must be considered in its entirety and complexity. This includes the health of our soils and their fertilization, as well as plant breeding and variety diversity, and the protection of crops from pests. Applied research and innovation are considered key to success.

Fundamentals

Austria's arable farming has many different types of cultivation. This is due to the diversity in soil types and climatic conditions of our agricultural production areas. Management systems and cultivation measures must take these different conditions into account. Austria's agriculture has therefore adopted the strategy of integrated crop production and plant protection in order to ensure productivity, sustainability and environmental protection in equal measure with innovative, flexible cultivation methods.

Just like nature itself, society's demands on agriculture are subject to permanent change. Consumers have an increased awareness of safety and quality. On the other hand, there are threats to food security from climate change, the steady loss of fertile soil and the generally increasing scarcity of resources. This is particularly true for Austria, as the Alpine region is being hit harder than average by climate change and Austria has used up more fertile farmland in the last 50 years than comparable neighboring countries.

Goal

The technical papers developed are aimed at economic stakeholders and authorities as well as companies and social multipliers. The contents are intended to serve as a basis for further measures and decisions by the expert public in the field of crop production. To this end, agricultural scientists from the fields of soil health and plant nutrition, sustainable crop production and integrative crop protection, genetic engineering and toxicology worked together with experts in training and consulting on the topics of crop production and agricultural engineering, as well as economists from the agricultural industry.

Background: Strategy process Future Crop Production

Future issues and challenges for a modern, high-yield and environmentally conscious crop production were discussed with relevant stakeholders of Austrian crop production on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Regions and Tourism (BMLRT). The extensive knowledge as well as the different expectations towards a modern crop production were collected. The results were summarized in a 10-point program with measures on how the Austrian plant cultivation sector should be shaped in the future: 10-point program for modern plant cultivation

  • Promotion of a versatile crop rotation and increase of biodiversity
  • Site-adapted breeding and varieties
  • Promotion of soil-conserving production methods and targeted environmental monitoring
  • Expansion of integrated crop protection
  • Further reduction in the use of plant protection products
  • Clear and transparent framework conditions for the approval of plant protection products
  • Linking practice and research
  • Education campaign for modern crop production
  • Increased public relations work
  • Better networking of all stakeholders

All relevant stakeholders in the field of crop production were involved: agriculture, processing, trade, testing bodies, interest groups, non-profit organizations, industry and science. Thus, the extensive knowledge as well as the different expectations towards modern crop production could be gathered. The main topics were research and training, public relations, legal and regulatory framework and cooperation between all stakeholders.

Dialog

In order to ensure the ecological, economic and social performance of Austria's crop production in the long term in the face of changing framework conditions, AGES has initiated a broad social dialogue process on behalf of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Regions and Tourism (BMLRT). The dialogue on balancing interests is being intensified in order to create social acceptance for necessary plant cultivation measures through more intensive cooperation between agriculture, the environment and food.

We organize regular technical exchange on current topics of crop production in Austria with stakeholders from agriculture, processing, trade, testing bodies, interest groups, non-profit organizations, industry and science. Regular "round tables" are intended to drive the exchange of different perspectives, eliminate prejudices and provide a better understanding of each other's needs.

The focus is on open communication both internally and externally, including, of course, consensus and dissent on the respective topics. All stakeholders strive for cooperation and results in this process. The results of the meetings should be recorded and communicated. This is the wish of those involved in the Stakeholder Process Strategy for the Future of Crop Production and has also been set out in a 10-point program.

Preamble

  • The Dialogue Future Crop Production is an essential building block for new forms of cooperation and a supplement to existing mechanisms for networking ecological, economic and social concerns in Austria.
  • Periodically held "round tables" serve to deal with current plant cultivation topics.
  • The dialogue platform is based on a relationship of trust between the parties involved, and round tables are intended to promote such a relationship.
  • The joint work should be consensus-oriented and characterized by continuity.
  • The participants accept and respect the positions and interests of the other dialogue partners.
  • The topics from the side of the actors should be named and introduced in time for better preparation.
  • The round tables should be staffed by the actors with experts on the respective topics.
  • The participation in the round table extends to the organizations participating in the strategy process Future Crop Production.
  • In this sense, the dialogue includes all relevant sectors and organizations and can also be supplemented or expanded - as desired and agreed with the participants.
  • The financing of the round tables and the provision of the necessary infrastructure as well as any necessary lectures will be taken over by AGES according to the financial possibilities.
  • For reasons of economy and resource conservation, existing resources and scientific bases should be used first and foremost.
  • The dialogue starts open-ended. The highest possible degree of consensus is sought.
  • Thematic proposals and opinions will be documented in anonymized reports.
  • Formal voting is not envisaged as a matter of principle.
  • The dialog is intended to create the basis for working out solutions by mutual agreement.
  • The financing of the implementation of the proposals for action is the responsibility of the respective actors within the scope of their possibilities.

Round table

The "Round Table" Future Crop Production is based on a relationship of trust between all participants in a spirit of partnership. The participants accept and respect the positions and interests of the other dialog partners. An open exchange of opinions requires trust in and compliance with the rules of the game. For this reason, a culture of discussion and information is practiced that is borrowed from the principles of the so-called "Chatham House Rules" and thus preserves the anonymity of the discussion partners. The meetings are documented in the form of minutes focusing on topics and content. No persons, names or groups are named in the minutes or assigned to the contents.

The cultivation of protein crops has development potential not only in Austria. The topic is also coming more into focus in European agriculture. The expansion of production and the supply of domestic plant protein has also been sustainably anchored in the government program. Most recently, the COVID 19 pandemic demonstrated how important it is to have a domestic supply of food and feedstuffs and to strive for the greatest possible independence from imports.

The participation of the Dialogue on Future Crop Production experts in the strategy process therefore provided an important basis for future measures to exploit the full potential of protein crops for competitive and environmentally conscious land management. At a roundtable on July 15, 2021, the results of the strategy process "Austrian Protein Strategy" were presented and discussed with all stakeholders of the sector along the supply chain, administrations and science & research.

Background: In April 2019, the BMLRT launched the project "Austrian Protein Strategy", in which many experts of Dialog Zukunft Pflanzenbau actively participated. The work on this project is now completed and the final report will be published soon. The protein strategy of the BMLRT can be downloaded here. The contents of the protein strategy were presented to the working groups at the round table.

Phosphorus is an essential element for all living things, as it serves, among other things, as the motor of metabolism. However, the resource is not substitutable. The raw material phosphorus, which is indispensable for plant production, is classified by the EU as a critical raw material. In July 2019, the European Parliament therefore adopted a new EU fertilizer product regulation. The recitals explicitly mentioned the recycling of the scarce resource from sewage sludge, among other things. At our roundtable on circular economy and phosphorus recycling on April 27, 2021, we discussed phosphorus recovery. Municipal sewage sludge contains large amounts of phosphorus. The utilization is low. Currently, only sewage sludge is applied to agricultural land. Over 50 percent of municipal sewage sludge is incinerated.

Climate change affects ecosystems in their entirety, including the soil and thus the nutrient and water cycle as well as soil formation processes. It can be assumed that due to increased heavy precipitation and at the same time increasing dry phases, changes in humus and nutrient dynamics, soil structure and water management, erosion tendency and biodiversity are to be expected. In addition, due to the high land use, increasingly less production land is available. At the round table "Soils fit for the climate - the soil in (climate) change" on June 13, 2019, current research projects were presented and possible threats as well as countermeasures or measures for climate change adaptation were discussed.

As nitrogen-fixing plants, soybeans and legumes are good for the soil and climate, and as important protein suppliers, they are good for human and animal nutrition. Protein crops are therefore one of several pillars of sustainable agriculture. At the roundtable "Austrian Protein Strategy 2020+" on April 5, 2019, the Austrian protein balance was analyzed and existing national initiatives and best practice models for protein crops in Austria were discussed.

In a next step, working groups will be established to develop an overall Austrian strategy to exploit the full potential of soy & legumes for competitive and environmentally conscious land management. The four work packages are based on the Protein Report of the European Commission, which for the first time provides a European view on the supply of protein crops. The four working group leaders as well as the objectives of the working groups can be found in the presentation "Austrian Protein Strategy - Structure and Planned Approach". Target group for participation are all key stakeholders along the agricultural production chain, administrations as well as science & research. Until April 26, 2019, they can register their interest with one of the working group leaders via email. Multiple registrations by institutions or to working groups are possible in principle; coordination within the organization is requested: Working Group 1 "Climate, Environment and Food": josef.pinkl@ages.at Working Group 2 "Production": a.marksteiner@lk-oe.at Working Group 3 "Value Chain": christian.gessl@ama.gv.at Working Group 4 "Research & Development and GAP": monika.stangl@bmnt.gv.at An Austrian overall strategy on protein crops 2020+, commissioned by the Federal Ministry of Sustainability and Tourism (BMNT), is to bundle national initiatives to expand production and thus increase self-sufficiency by autumn 2019, strengthen the expansion of supply chains with domestic plant proteins for food and animal feed, and push research & development activities and cooperation at EU level.

Honey bees make an indispensable contribution to biodiversity through their pollination activities and contribute to food security in Austria. Increased colony losses worldwide were the impetus for the research project "Future Bee" to investigate bee health and the influence of agricultural production, beekeeping and weather conditions on colony and bee losses. At the round table "Research on honey bee health" on November 8, 2018, the research results and conclusions for the practice of beekeepers and farmers were discussed.

Drift is the undesirable spread of applied pesticide active ingredients to non-target areas during application by spraying. At a round table on July 9, 2018, on the topic of "Coexistence", precautionary measures in crop protection were discussed in order to reduce drift and active ingredient contamination as much as possible and to ensure the coexistence of organic and conventional farms.

On November 27, 2017, the active ingredient glyphosate was re-approved at the European level. The member states voted by qualified majority in favor of the EU Commission's proposal to renew the authorization for five years. At a round table on December 14, 2017, the legal implications for the agricultural and non-agricultural sectors in Austria were discussed.

Based on the legal text of the European Commission, 50 representatives of the federal ministries, the federal states (responsible for the application of plant protection products), the Federal Office for Food Safety (responsible authority for the authorization of plant protection products), the social partners, agricultural and non-agricultural large-scale users as well as environmental protection organizations discussed legal options for authorization and application restrictions. In addition to the further procedure within the framework of the EU legal requirements, practical experiences of the application in the agricultural and non-agricultural sector as well as possible alternatives were the subject of the expert presentations. The technical and scientific aim is to reduce the use of plant protection products to the necessary level in accordance with EU legislation. Austria has already implemented numerous glyphosate use restrictions in the past. The new Commission Regulation now contains additional scope for action. In addition, the motion for a feasibility study and an action plan for the phase-out of glyphosate in Austria was introduced in the Austrian Parliament on December 13, 2017.

What are the next steps? The Federal Office for Food Safety (BAES) is responsible for the approval of plant protection products. In Austria, 49 products containing the active ingredient glyphosate are currently approved. Authorization holders who wish to continue placing their products on the market in Austria must submit an application for renewal of the authorizations for glyphosate to the BAES within three months of the effective date of the renewal. If the approval holder does not submit an application for renewal, the approval will expire one year from the expiry of the original approval of the active substance to be renewed (plus the sell-off and use-up period). What does the BAES check according to the possibilities under EU law? In the non-agricultural sector: No approval for the home and allotment garden sector and extensive restrictions in the public sector. In the agricultural sector: No approval for crop treatment. The federal states are responsible for the use of plant protection products and can implement further restrictions on the use of plant protection products containing glyphosate within the scope of EU legal possibilities. For a total ban on the marketing of herbicides containing glyphosate, a number of strict preconditions have to be demonstrated, which must be met cumulatively. These preconditions are not currently met. Therefore, a feasibility study and an action plan for the phase-out of glyphosate in Austria should be developed. Overall, it is necessary to strengthen confidence in the technical-scientific decision-making process of plant protection products. Therefore, the announcement of the EU Commission to present or improve the transparency, quality and independence of scientific evaluations of active substances in the future is to be welcomed.

As part of a two-day "country visit" to Austria, EFSA Director Dr. Bernhard Url was a guest at Dialog Zukunft Pflanzenbau on November 23, 2017. The focus of the European Food Safety Authority for 2017 is cooperation with the Member States. Under the keyword "Open EFSA", EFSA is working on the challenges around Open Data, citizen participation and transparency. More than 80 stakeholders from AGES' dialogue networks on food safety and food security discussed current (risk) topics.

Neobiota and neophytes have a major impact on Austrian crop production and thus on food security. The roundtable on September 19, 2017 aims to shed light on the impact of "aliens" on plant health and thus our agriculture. Together with experts we will discuss the direct and indirect impacts of invasive plant and animal pests on biodiversity and ecosystems, especially agriculture, but also forestry and water bodies.

Food losses contribute substantially to the waste of resources, in particular land, water, energy, labor and capital. On March 14, 2017, the EU Parliament voted on a package of laws on the circular economy aimed at halving food waste by 2030. This legislative package also calls on farmers to avoid losses in the production process. The "Harvest Losses" roundtable on May 29, 2017, aimed to shed light on plant pre-harvest losses in the field, during harvesting, and other losses during transport and storage in Austria. Practical examples are the wireworm & the potato or mold toxins in cereals & corn, as well as storage losses and storage pests and technology-related losses.

The existing legal requirements for the evaluation of traditionally bred varieties or genetically modified plants do not do full justice to the "new breeding techniques". The discussion about the classification of new techniques in plant breeding in the existing legal system has been going on for years. In the meantime, new methods for the targeted modification of the plant genome, in particular gene editing methods, are being used more and more. Against the background of the scientific, regulatory and societal discussion, we will discuss the topic "New breeding techniques" in the dialogue on February 27, 2017. The aim of the round table is to map the status quo of science and European and Austrian law.

Tested plant protection products make an important contribution to healthy plants, safe food and an intact environment. What criteria, test procedures and guidelines are used to assess potential risks to humans and non-target organisms? Who carries out the post-registration or application controls? And what are the challenges for food-secure and sustainable crop protection? Together with speakers from European and national authorities, we discussed the registration and evaluation of plant protection products in Austria and the EU on December 1, 2016.

Beans, peas, soy & Co are good for the soil, for the nutrition of humans and animals, and for the climate. Legumes should be one of several pillars of sustainable agriculture, but they are not. The degree of self-sufficiency in Austria is unsatisfactory. Large quantities of soybean meal have to be imported to compensate for the undersupply of domestic protein feed.

In the UN International Year of Pulses 2016, the Legumes Round Table on September 13, 2016, will focus on these important protein suppliers. We will discuss the importance of legumes in Austrian agriculture, their advantages and disadvantages as catch crop or greening and discuss solutions and strategies to improve the protein situation.

At the Seed Summit on April 12, 2016, concrete steps to strengthen bio- and agrobiodiversity were discussed and measures for the seed sector were derived. These relate in particular to the topics of biopatents and plant variety protection, new breeding techniques, freedom from genetic engineering - opportunities and challenges, seed from plant genetic resources (PGR), and organic seed and future breeding goals.

As part of the Future Crop Production dialog process, another round table on glyphosate was held on April 6, 2016 with participating stakeholders. The aim of the dialogue was to present the current status of the regular EU active substance review of glyphosate to the participants from science, NGOs, trade, industry, interest groups and producers, and to introduce and discuss new aspects.

Even after the UN International Year of Soil 2015, work for soil protection and soil health will continue intensively. Healthy and fertile soil not only provides us with food, but also regulates the water balance and the climate. The focus of the second round table on January 28, 2016 was therefore on the nutrients phosphorus and nitrogen, as well as their cycles. The presentations focused on agricultural soil management and sustainable crop production. The aim is to enable sustainable agriculture with high productivity and in consideration of environmental and climate protection.

Due to the broad public discussion in the context of the regular EU active substance review and the resulting health assessment, the first round table on September 30, 2015, dealt with the topic of glyphosate. This herbicide is used in agriculture to control weeds and is one of the most widely used active ingredients in crop protection products worldwide.

Last updated: 17.01.2022

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