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Pesticides are far less controversial in Eastern Europe

June 22, 2020 8:23 AM, Der AUDITOR
Dr Olga Hunger states that Eastern Europe has a different mindset. @DLG/EuroTier
Dr Olga Hunger states that Eastern Europe has a different mindset. @DLG/EuroTier
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SEEHEIM/FRANKFURT. Food embargoes, Vladimir Putin and different standards, trading with Russia and Eastern Europe is anything but easy for the EU. In an interview with The AUDITOR Dr Olga Hunger, Area Director for Eastern Europe at the German Agricultural Society (DLG e.V), talks about the difficult relationship between the EU, Russia and Eastern Europe, pesticides and the role of online trading platforms.

AUDITOR: The relationship between the EU and Russia is not free of conflict. How is cooperation possible?
Dr Hunger:
Our cooperation with Russia focuses on the exchange of information on specialist topics in the agricultural and food sector. We are convinced that this exchange is important and profitable for both sides. We develop and promote platforms for professional dialogue and bring together experts and farmers. In this way we create the basis for better mutual understanding and for maintaining professional and business relationships. Although Russia has closed the borders for some food products from the EU in line with the embargo, trade in seeds, breeding animals and in machinery and equipment for agriculture and food processing is still possible. Europe's agricultural sector benefits from this.

AUDITOR: Germany strives to modernise agriculture. Ecology and the prevention of the extinction of species are important. Many pesticides are banned and farmers are urged to leave hedges and bushes standing. What is the situation in Eastern Europe?
Dr Hunger: In my opinion, there are three distinguishing factors in Eastern Europe that need to be considered. These are consumer prosperity, land availability and production intensity. In Russia, for instance, 37 percent of income is on average spent on food, in Germany, by contrast, only 12 percent. Food prices play a much more important role for broad segments of the population in Russia than sustainability, biodiversity or other aspects of agricultural production, which are the focus of public debate in Germany. Consumer sensitivity to these issues and consumer behaviour oriented towards them are not as pronounced as in Germany, so that the conversion of agricultural production methods is progressing more slowly. Nevertheless, the awareness for environmentally friendly agriculture is of course also on the rise in Eastern Europe. The trend towards more organic production is mainly attributed to the rise in exports of organic products.
There also is a large gap in production intensity between Germany and Eastern Europe. In contrast to Germany, most Eastern European countries have the advantage that they are richly endowed with agricultural land. A more extensive subsistence strategy is possible here. The use of fertilisers and pesticides is far from being as widespread as in Germany. Wheat yields, for instance, differ by as much as 12 dt/ha in Kazakhstan and 74 dt/ha in Germany.
The situation is different in animal production. Large livestocks give rise to problems in utilising dung and liquid manure. Regulations are, in some cases, stricter than in Germany. Nevertheless, it often does not pay off for farmers to distribute manure evenly over their entire arable area and grassland. The investment costs for the technology required, long distances and fuel expenses exceed the economic benefit. For this reason, on some farmers mainly distribute manure on nearby surrounding field that only make up a small proportion of the farm's total agricultural land. Too high nitrate loads are therefore quite possible on individual fields. In this respect average values for application rates and yields do not always reflect the real situation. This not only applies to the application of organic fertilisers but also to mineral fertilisers and pesticides.

AUDITOR: Exposure to pesticides and similar chemicals restricts trade since limits are frequently exceeded. What is your experience with the efforts countries in Eastern Europe make to address this problem? Is there a shift in mindset?
Dr Hunger: The higher levels of pesticide exposure are often due to non-compliance with application instructions, dosages or other regulations of the manufacturers. A reduction of environmental pollution through a more strongly regulated application of fertilisers and pesticides is hardly discussed politically or socially. This is mainly due to the three factors mentioned above. If prosperity and production intensity continue to increase and agricultural land becomes scarcer, this will also promote a change in thinking. Currently, the only driving forces that are driving agricultural companies to change their crop production strategies are cost reduction and international trade. This is where the requirements for reducing pollution from agrochemical residues are being raised.
We as the DLG see our task in the transfer of technology and knowledge as well as in the training of farmers in the coordinated use of modern technology, operating resources and farming methods in order to enhance professionalisation in plant protection and fertilisation.

AUDITOR: How exactly does the DLG cooperate with countries in Eastern Europe?
Dr Hunger:
Our three most important fields of competence are knowledge management and know-how transfer, the organisation of trade fairs, conferences and meetings, and the testing of food, agricultural machinery and equipment. The network idea is always at the centre of our activities - also in the Eastern European countries. To this end, the DLG creates platforms and structures for professional exchange. Of the eleven foreign subsidiaries of the DLG, five are located in Eastern Europe (Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Russia, Ukraine). In addition, the DLG organises or supports 19 trade fairs in seven Eastern European countries. The DLG also shapes the dialogue between experts from Eastern Europe and other countries by means of conferences, discussion groups and meetings - accompanying trade fairs or as independent events. Current issues are discussed, recommendations elaborated on and communicated in various DLG committees and expert panels. In the DLG Working Group Eastern Europe technical topics and special challenges in Eastern Europe are dealt with by farmers, scientists and industry representatives from Germany, Belarus and Kazakhstan, Croatia, Poland and Russia and Ukraine.
We also cooperate with manufacturers in Eastern Europe in relation to quality testing. Eastern European manufacturers have their products tested in the DLG test centres to obtain independent quality assessments and options for optimisation for food, agricultural machinery or operating equipment. The DLG quality awards for food and agricultural technology are also attracting growing interest.

AUDITOR: We are observing an increase in protectionism in Europe. In how is the DLG impacted by this development?
Dr Hunger:
The DLG is an open network for agriculture, agri business and the food industry. As a specialist organisation and organiser of conferences and trade fairs, we are only indirectly affected by developments in international trade. In various, mainly European countries, there are export-promoting organisations that receive government support. These organisations help a country's own companies to open up new markets by promoting market explorations and participation in trade fairs. We cooperate with such organisations on a global scale and accompany them into new markets.

AUDITOR: Do you believe that news and trading platforms such as Mundus Agri can strengthen international trade in agricultural raw material and help to improve relations?
Dr Hunger:
Absolutely. Trade is also a form of dialogue in promoting the consideration of mutual interests, creating win-win situations and driving progress. This is important for international relations.

AUDITOR: What projects are you currently working on?
Dr Hunger:
Our biggest international projects are the world's leading trade fairs Agritechnica for agricultural machinery and EuroTier for animal professionals, which are held alternately every other year in Hanover (Germany). These platforms bring together thousands of suppliers from more than 60 countries with hundreds of thousands of trade visitors from over 120 countries.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic and the problems for international travel, we have now postponed our EuroTier and EnergyDecentral trade fairs, which would have taken place in November, by three months to February 2021. Our trade fairs are a global meeting place for experts and decision-makers from the entire industry. They thrive on their internationality and the personal exchange among exhibitors and visitors. Building up these networks is a long-term task and personal effort on the part of everyone involved.

AUDITOR: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Dr Hunger:
I wish the Mundus Agri news trading platform every success. You connect markets and people, we are happy to support such projects.

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