Vilsack, EU ag commissioner declare solidarity on Ukraine
|Today, on the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and European Union Agriculture Commissioner Janus Wojciechowski declared that the United States and the European Union are in solidarity on addressing the agricultural and global food security problems that have resulted.|
At the Agriculture Department’s annual Agricultural Outlook Forum in Arlington, Va., Vilsack said that the U.S.-EU cooperation on Ukraine is one of the “joint goals” the United States and the European Union share in a “complex relationship” that involves both collaboration and competition.
Wojciechowski, a Pole, called Russia’s invasion “unprovoked and unjustified aggression,” and thanked the United States for its support of Ukraine. Poland, he noted, has a “historical experience” with Russia, since his country was under Russian domination for 250 years.
The reaction to the war is “a question of global security,” he said.
Both agriculture leaders focused on the importance of keeping the Black Sea ports open, but also raised the possibility that the ports could be closed if Russia does not agree with other countries to continue the Black Sea Grain Initiative.
Vilsack noted that overland routes for exporting grain from Ukraine are inefficient compared with the use of the Black Sea ports, and Wojciechowski said it is important to develop an alternative route to export through the Baltic Sea. Wojciechowski said he had discussed the need for this alternative route with Vilsack during their meetings, and that business needs to be involved in that discussion.
Vilsack also noted that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has reduced the supply of fertilizer in the United States and said USDA is now analyzing 21 projects that have been submitted to figure out how fertilizer can be used more efficiently and how it can be produced in the United States.
More efficient production of fertilizer and its use can affect climate change because energy is an important element in the production of fertilizer, Vilsack said. More efficient production, Vilsack said, can reduce the greenhouse gas footprint of both the production and of farming.
Wojciechowski noted that Ukrainian agriculture production has been cut by about half since the war began, and Vilsack also noted that when the war ends Ukrainian agriculture will have to be rebuilt.
In a broader discussion, the two leaders said they have common goals but different strategies to achieve them.
|Wojciechowski said the European Union’s four agricultural goals are:|
▪ food security for all people
▪ stability in incomes for farmers
▪ sustainability for the environment, because it’s possible to produce more fertilizer and crop protection products, but not more land, and
▪ solidarity with Ukraine and other countries on food security.
Vilsack noted he had said in his keynote speech on Thursday that he believes the United States has focused too much on productivity and efficiency and not enough on profitability, sustainability and resiliency.
He said again, as he did Thursday, that the reauthorization of the farm bill would be an opportunity to continue the programs that Biden administration has started to try to help small and medium-sized farmers stay in business and discourage rural population loss.
Wojciechowski said that both the United States and the European Union face the issue of aging farmers and what he called “generational renewal.”
Like Vilsack, he noted the impact of rural population loss on small towns. Between 2010 and 2020, the number of farms in the European Union went down from 12 million to 9 million, a loss of about 800 farms per day.
After Vilsack said that one of the ways in which he wants to improve the situation of smaller farmers is to help them access local markets, Wojciechowski said that while the EU will continue export promotion, it should pay more attention to local markets.
Wojciechowski noted that the 27-member European Union is now allowing more implementation of the Common Agricultural Policy at the country level, and in fact has 28 country implementation plans because Belgium has two.
Wojciechowski suggested that the United States and the European Union should “collaborate” on introducing into the World Trade Organization a set of “common values and vision” that a farm is not a factory and that animals are not machines.
In an apparent reference to U.S. aid to farmers during the COVID-19 pandemic and in the reduction of exports to China, Wojciechowski said he believes that the United States does a better job of aiding farmers during crises and that the EU should improve its crisis response mechanism.
Neither ag leader focused on the conflicts between the United States and the European Union policies, but Vilsack did note the example of residues on products. The United States may say one level is safe while other countries may say the tolerance level needs to be lower.
While there are continuing disagreements about biotechnology, Vilsack also said U.S. and EU officials may be close to reaching “consensus” on the issue of gene editing.
Vilsack said meetings between officials are important because “we have to keep searching for that elusive sweet spot that will allow you to take a step forward.”
Officials having disagreements “can’t go to your corners” because that would mean the trading system could not meet the goals of food security that the United States and the European Union both want.
“We may not make progress in a particular conversation but it stimulates thought,” Vilsack said.