“If you want to strengthen resilience in agriculture, it is not enough to focus on the stability of the farm. The concepts of flexibility and transition must also be looked at more closely.” This is the starting point of the 16 research centers from the 11 European countries involved in the Horizon2020 research project SURE-Farm (" Towards SUstainable and Resilient EU FARMing systems"). The resilience of the agricultural sector is an important goal of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The challenges are expected to increase in the coming years.
Challenges and uncertainties
European farmers are increasingly facing price fluctuations and extreme weather conditions, which reduce harvest security. The number of farms is decreasing, the farmers are aging, and the remaining farms are often getting larger. Consumers are more aware of their diet and that changes their buying behavior.
European regions often have significantly different challenges. Some are more vulnerable to climatic or disease risks. Others are confronted with a changing attitude towards agriculture.
Only resilient farms can meet all these challenges. This has led to demand for development trajectories regarding the three types of resilience in Europe: stability, flexibility and transition.
In the SURE-Farm research project, a group of European researchers will assist policy makers and the sector to improve the resilience of the agricultural sector. The researchers believe that traditional strategies are not sufficient. Resilience goes far beyond the assumption that policy measures and market instruments should focus on robust companies and incomes which remain stable if they come under pressure due to external or internal challenges.
Prof. dr. Miranda Meuwissen (WUR), project coordinator of SURE-Farm: "Sometimes radical changes are needed in the way goods and services are produced, financed and launched on the market. It is not the farms themselves who should be central to the policy, but the functions that they fulfill, such as the production of food, generation of incomes in rural areas, and supplying ecosystem services. This can only be achieved if multiple processes are tackled simultaneously. Think about European policy making, risk management, demographic changes, institutional modifications and new ways of producing. The agricultural sector must itself contribute to resilience through bottom-up learning processes, entrepreneurship and innovation."
SURE-Farm in 11 European countries
The 11 European agricultural regions in this project are studying the resilience of specific types of agriculture. In each region, the local challenges and functions of agriculture will be analyzed and they investigate which factors have an impact on the farms’ resilience and how these are influenced by policy. For some farms, strategies that focus on stability will be enough. Others will have to adapt or even transform to keep their essential functions. These trajectories will be developed together with farmers and stakeholders, since the necessary knowledge is usually not available in statistics and databases.
Flanders focuses on dairy farming
SURE-Farm has chosen to work on intensive dairy farming in Flanders. Erwin Wauters (ILVO): "Dairy farms mainly focus on growth. They are often highly dependent on external inputs and also become more capital-intensive. That involves mainly financial risks. These are reinforced by volatile milk prices resulting from the cancellation of the quota three years ago."
Erik Mathijs (KULeuven): "A very diverse set of research methods gives us insight into factors that determine the resilience of our Flemish dairy farms. In addition to the quantitative modeling of the impact of resilience-enhancing strategies and regulations, we also use co-creation with stakeholders. We start from a context of extensive challenges and, together with the sector, we look for effective and useful strategies, for example, to make the sector more attractive to newcomers and future generations."
The Flemish SURE-Farm research center also pays attention to how policy can optimally support the implementation of these strategies.
Greet Riebbels, ILVO Communication: Greet.Riebbels@ilvo.vlaanderen.be, M +32 486 26 00 14
Dr. Erwin Wauters, ILVO researcher, Erwin.Wauters@ilvo.vlaanderen.be, T. +32 9 272 23 47
Prof Erik Mathijs, KULeuven: Erik.Mathijs@kuleuven.be