Open letter on the EU’s ‘Farmers for the Future’ Report and the Farm to Fork Strategy

Open letter of European scholars to:

  • Frans Timmermans, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission
  • Janusz Wojciechowski, European Commissioner for Agriculture,
  • Norbert Lins, President of COMAGRI of the European Parliament.

Re: ‘Farmers for the Future’

Wageningen, 10th of March 2021

Dear Sirs,

In 2020 the European Commission released ‘Farmers for the Future’ (EUR 30464 EN), a Science for Policy Report, prepared by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission. This policy report is intended to contribute to the further elucidation of the EU’s Farm to Fork Strategy which is a key element of the European Green Deal. It has, at its core, a description of 12 profiles that are an attempt to categorize the likely diversity and range of professional farming styles in European agriculture in 2040. The report asks, and tries to respond to, the following question: “ Who will be the key players of the EU next-generation agriculture, the farmers of the future?”

We, the authors of this letter, are scholars linked to Europe’s main agricultural universities and research institutes who share a strong commitment to supporting the transformation to a sustainable agriculture that lives up to societal expectations. We applaud the attempt to envisage the future structure of EU agriculture and the diversity of professional roles that it will surely entail.

However, we observe that ‘Farmers for the Future’ critically fails to make use of, or build upon, Europe’s rich academic tradition of exploring and extrapolating the wide and richly-chequered heterogeneity of its agriculture. We also observe that the report does not offer evidence-based, scientific, support that can contribute to process of European policy making. Instead, ‘Farmers for the Future’  contains and introduces dangerous biases into the discussions and debates.

Of the 12 profiles presented in the report, three centre on new high-tech solutions (without seriously taking into account the need to mitigate the climate crisis), six focus on new forms of practicing agriculture that, while they may have desirable social aspects,  are not primarily about food production and/or gaining an income from it, whilst another one is associated with land-grabbing (‘corporate farmers’).

The remaining two profiles, ‘adaptive’ and ‘patrimonial’ farmers (which in practice often overlap), clearly refer to the large majority of the 10 million family farms that exist in the EU. However, they are depicted (especially the ‘patrimonial farmers’) in pejorative terms. They, the report repeatedly argues, are people “sitting on the fence”,  who “fail to see viable alternatives”, “avoid making decisions” and “only implement changes to their practices when forced to [do so]”.

This line of argumentation ignores the fact that insecurity is not a personal attribute but is felt by all farmers in Europe (regardless of their ‘profile’). It is inherent to being entrapped in a dysfunctional food system. It is also at odds with the fact that it is precisely these ‘patrimonial farmers’ who hold the promise for the future: their peasant-like way of farming comes with low costs (due to low levels of external input use and debts), the use of family labour, and the availability of, and reliance on,  a self-governed resource base that is partly grounded on inherited farm infrastructure and land assets. This makes them financially resilient. These farmers also have relatively low levels of fossil energy use (compared to the other profiles). The relatively low levels of external input use also contribute to the quality and safety of the food these farmers produce. Many of these ‘patrimonial farmers’ are actively engaged in a ‘silent’ transition towards agroecology and many youngsters throughout Europe are trying to construct new, more attractive, constellations around this way of farming.

Finally we observe that the report ignores the real possibility of frictions and contradictions between the different professional roles it distinguishes, despite this issue having been explored in several recent scientific publications.

We kindly request that the different actors involved in European decision making take note of these biases and omissions and also involve ECVC in the processes of consultation concerning the future prospects for agriculture, particularly in light of previous comments and contributions made by the ECVC on the profiling of agricultural professions having being ignored, or at least not responded to.

With due respect,

  • Jan Douwe van der Ploeg, Emeritus Professor Wageningen University (and corresponding author)
  • Dominique Barjolle, Researcher, ETZ, Zürich
  • Mauro Conti, Post-doctoral Researcher, Department of Political and Social Sciences, Centre for Rural Development Studies, Università della Calabria
  • Alessandra Corrado, Associate Professor at University of Calabria, Department of Social and Political Sciences
  • Manuel Delgado Cabeza, Emeritus Professor, Universidad de Sevilla
  • Joost Dessein, Associate Professor rural sociology, Universiteit van Gent
  • Lola Domínguez García, Department of applied economics, public economics and political economy, Complutense University of Madrid
  • Jessica Duncan, Associate Professor, Wageningen University
  • Lorenzo Fernández Prieto, Full professor, Universidad de Santiago de Compostela
  • Tomaso Ferrando, Research Professor, University of Antwerp, Faculty of Law
  • Andrea Fink-Keßler, Büro für Agrar- und Regionalentwicklung, Kassel
  • Maria Fonte, Adjunct Professor American University of Rome
  • Francisco Garrido Peña, Full Professor, Universidad de Jaén
  • Manuel González de Molina, Laboratorio de Historia de los Agroecosistemas, Universidad Pablo de Olavide, Universidad de Granada
  • Krzysztof Gorlach, Professor of Sociology, Jagiellonian University, Kraków, Poland
  • Gloria Guzmán Casado, Associate Professor, Universidad Pablo de Olavide
  • Joost Jongerden, Associate Professor, Wageningen University
  • Karin Jürgens, Büro für Agrarsoziologie und Landwirtschaft (BAL)
  • James Kinsella, Professor of Agricultural Extension and Rural Development, University College Dublin
  • Karlheinz Knickel, Program Leader, Helsinki Institute of Sustainability Science, University of Helsinki
  • Daniel López García, Researcher, Fundación Entretantos
  • David Martínez López, Associate professor, Universidad de Jaén
  • Terry Marsden, Emeritus Professor, Cardiff University, Wales, UK.
  • Nora McKeon, Rome 3 University and International University College, Turin
  • Benedetto Meloni, Università di Cagliari
  • Pierluigi Milone, Professor of Agricultural Economics, University of Perugia
  • Egon Noe, Professor, Center for Landdistriktsforskning, Syddansk Universtet, Esbjerg, DK
  • Henk Oostindie, Assistant Professor Rural Sociology, Wageningen University
  • Michel Pimbert, Director of Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience, Coventry University, UK
  • Onno Poppinga, Emeritus Professor Agrarpolitik und Vorstand des Kasseler Instituts für ländliche Entwicklung.
  • Dirk Roep, Assistant Professor, Wageningen University
  • Adanella Rossi, Associate Pprofessor, University of Pisa
  • Javier Sanz Cañada, Researcher, CSIC-Madrid
  • Markus Schermer, Institut für Soziologie, Universität Innsbruck
  • Xavier Simón Fernández, Associate professor, Universidad de Vigo
  • David Soto Fernández, Associate Professor, Universidad de Santiago de Compostela
  • Paul Swagemakers, Department of applied economics, University of Vigo
  • Enric Tello Aragay, Full professor, Universidad de Barcelona
  • Pablo Tittonell, WWF Chair Professor Resilient Landscapes for Nature and People, Groningen Institute of Evolutionary Life Sciences, Groningen University
  • Flaminia Ventura, Professor of Agricultural Economics, University of Perugia
  • Marjolein Visser, Professor Landbouwsystemen en Agroecologie, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Agroecology Lab.
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