2024 Annual Conference summary – Session 2

The need for systemic change

Monday, Apr 01, 2024

Opening the discussion at the start of the second session, Patrick Child, Deputy Director General, Environment, European Commission, paid tribute to the strength and resilience of the agriculture sector. It continues to provide “healthy and nutritious food for our people”, while navigating the challenges from Covid, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, trade imbalances, inflation and high energy prices against the backdrop of climate change and biodiversity loss.

His main message was the need for different groups “to find new ways of working together” to tackle the individual, but interlinked, challenges. He expressed the Commission’s regret at EU governments’ recent failure to adopt the nature restoration law, while pointing to progress being made on soil and forestry monitoring. He predicted that water resilience would feature prominently in the next Commission’s work.


Jörg-Andreas Krüger, President, NABU, welcomed the general acceptance that the whole of society had to be involved in the transformation of the agri-food sector. He noted that farmers are moving from food providers to land managers – a process bringing changes to cultural values and business models practised for generations.

That transformation requires trust and a stable political framework, both of which are in short supply. “We have to rebuild trust to bring people to the table,” he said, adding he would like to see populism removed from the current debate.

Nanna-Louise Linde, Vice President European Government Affairs, Microsoft, said the company’s solution to producing more food to feed a growing population is “to cut production costs and make farming more efficient with the use of data and AI” to give farmers more and better information to make the right choices. This will require a legislative framework supporting the green and digital transformation and measures to train and inform people about the digital tools on offer. Microsoft applies internal AI principles to build accessibility and privacy into its products to make them widely available.

Sébastien Abis, Managing Director, Club Demeter, called for focus on the big picture and long-term vision to tackle the “unprecedented scenario” of demographic growth and ecological challenges. He criticised the replacement of earlier cooperation and a collective adventure with sovereignty, national interest and agricultural rearmament.

To meet the challenge “we have to cultivate cooperation and multilateralism in the world”. Increasing the basic need of food security for everyone. involves protecting ecosystems and natural resources while providing human safety and development. He suggested that “food inflation is green” since it can reflect the real cost of food production. “Maybe we have to consider in Europe that a never-ending low price for food is over”.

Vanessa Stiffler-Claus, Vice-President International Policy and Strategy, John Deere, pointed to opportunities for the private sector and innovation to help smooth some of the challenges from a changing political and regulatory framework. “Farmers need consistency so that they can invest in new technology and new products and practices.”

That consistency can come from developments encouraging the trend to digitalisation of machines and precision agriculture to raise yields, lower costs and improve the environment. She confirmed that these advances were available to small and large-scale farmers alike.

Strategic Dialogue

Professor Peter Strohschneider, Chair, Strategic Dialogue on the Future of EU Agriculture, gave a progress report on the initiative Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced in September 2023. Launched at the end of January, its task is “to reconcile agriculture and the preservation of nature” by bringing together stakeholders to end the current polarisation through dialogue to develop a common pathway for the future of European agriculture and agreement on a set of coherent recommendations for the Commission President.

The Professor summarised the initiative as addressing “the agri-food system as part of an urgent transformation of almost all patterns of production, distribution and consumption of goods and services that will affect our entire civilisation”. The exercise, he said, gives farmers an opportunity to find new partners committed to the importance of agriculture and to place the sector within a wider social consensus.

He has gathered over 170 EU-wide organisations to implement his mandate. While too early to go into detail, he is optimistic about the result to emerge at “harvest time” this year.

Further information on the speakers plus videos of this session can be viewed on the event page.

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