May 24. 2024. 5:37

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Wheat surplus makes phasing out biofuels obsolete, say producers


Amid plans by the German agricultural and environmental ministries to phase out conventional biofuels by 2030, energy crop producers argue that with the current oversupply of grain in countries neighbouring Ukraine, their justification has become obsolete.

German agricultural minister Cem Özdemir and environment minister Steffi Lemke, both of the Green party, said they want to phase out biofuels made from food and feed crops used in the country by 2030 to free up agricultural land for food production.

The initiative was initially put forward in April 2022 as a reaction to the Russian aggression against Ukraine, which threatened the security of food supplies from Ukraine.

“Agricultural land is scarce worldwide, and we urgently need it for food, as the war in Ukraine is dramatically demonstrating,” Lemke told newspaper Augsburger Allgemeine back in April 2022.

However, one year on from Russia’s full-scale invasion, the situation has changed.

The success of the EU’s ‘solidarity lanes’ initiative – a set of measures meant to help Ukraine export agricultural goods via all possible routes, including rail, road and river transport – has seen an influx of grain into neighbouring countries, including Poland and Romania.

In the view of grain producers, the justification for the ministers‘ initiative has therefore faded.

“In our opinion, the reason given by the German Environment Ministry is obsolete: the prices for wheat and oilseeds have fallen dramatically, and in the countries bordering Ukraine there is a glut of wheat,” Dieter Bockey of the union for the promotion of oil and protein plants (UFOP), told EURACTIV.

This even led to the situation where “the Polish Farmers’ Association called for an urgent solution to relieve the market”, such as “storage [financed] by EU means or processing into bioethanol,” Bockey added.

Agri crisis fund could ease blow of Ukraine grain influx, says Commissioner

The Common Agricultural Policy’s crisis reserve could be used to aid farmers in countries like Poland or Romania that are struggling with an influx of grain from neighbouring Ukraine, according to EU agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski.

Land use competition will increase, ministry says

The German agricultural ministry, however, disagrees with the association’s view.

To solve the issue of transporting grains out of Ukraine via alternative routes, a “further expansion and strengthening of the EU solidarity corridors” would be necessary, a ministry spokesperson told EURACTIV.

This should “enable the rapid and cost-effective transport of Ukrainian grain and thus contribute to stabilising the supply of the world agricultural markets”, they said.

On conventional biofuels, the ministry defended the objective to phase them out.

“In the medium to long term, the Federal Ministry for Food and Agriculture expects land use competition to continue to increase, which could also lead to shortages in the food markets in the future,” the spokesperson said.

“The proposed further gradual lowering of this cap [for biofuels made from food or feed crops] will contribute to food security by allowing greater use of crops used for biofuels in the food-feed sector,” they added.

Similar statements were made by environmental NGO Deutsche Umwelthilfe, which said that reports of a wheat glut are “exaggerated”.

“Grain prices have fallen recently, but are still at record levels globally, higher than before the war began and higher than even in 2011,” Johanna Büchler, senior expert for transport policy at the organisation, told EURACTIV.

To stabilise food prices and achieve climate and biodiversity objectives, “we need more land for nature-friendly, extensive food cultivation and also urgently need to give space back to nature for the protection and reconstruction of CO2 sinks and natural areas,” Büchler said.

“We simply can no longer afford the massive consumption of land for the production of agrifuel (and animal feed),” she added.

It has never been ‘food vs. fuel’, producers say

Biofuel producers, meanwhile, say that the argument of competition between food and biofuel production is flawed.

“There’s never been a link between food security and biofuels,” James Cogan of Ethanol Europe told EURACTIV, lamenting that “so much policy time has and is being wasted on this non-issue.”

“Anyone who claims that reducing biofuels demand on crops can improve food security is basing their claim on vague feeling rather than hard fact,” Cogan said.

“They could never credibly explain how reducing biofuels could actually have a trickle-over benefit for food security,” he added.

Food vs fuel: German ministries clash over role of conventional biofuels

The German transport and environment ministries clashed again over the use of crop-based biofuels such as biodiesel and bioethanol, as debates over the best use of arable land intensify.