Rationale and instruments for making Europe’s economy sustainable

Place of the farm in the sustainability of food production

A farm that produces food and raw materials for industry is simultaneously part of the economy, society and the environment. Its sustainability is important for each of these pillars and the balance between them. Irrespective of its size, form of ownership, or direction of production, etc., it is obliged to comply with the law and to actually apply all the regulations, such as those concerning the way it conducts its farming activities, care for the environment, labour rights, as well as its financial obligations.

The fact that a farm exists and operates is important both for the surrounding environment and for the community living nearby. It is therefore essential to be able to manage resources and production activities in a way that does not cause environmental damage or human conflict. Any productive activity thrives best in an atmosphere of acceptance and understanding; conflicts hinder or even prevent it. The farm strategy must take into account local social conditions to ensure conflict-free operation. Much of the legislation – e.g. on fertilisation, plant protection treatments or waste management – has been developed out of concern for the quality of the environment and people’s lives.

A farm operates not only in place, but also over time, even hundreds of years. Seeing it in the long term is essential for making sound decisions not only for business strategy and the nature of investments, but also in day-to-day work, where, for example, improvements in soil fertility are always the result of many years, even decades, of wise management. Caring for the land a farm uses, whether it is owned by the farmer or leased from another owner, is fundamental to the financial and environmental sustainability of the enterprise. Leased fields must be treated as well by the farmer as his own, and this must also be guarded when leasing his fields to other farmers.

The organisation of a farm producing food and raw materials for industry should be optimised according to its business plan and actual possibilities. Situations where fields, equipment, machinery, tractors are bought or leased that do not correspond to the actual needs always lead to losses and financial weakness of the farm.

Profitability is the result of comparing the value (quantity and quality) of a farm’s products with the expenditure incurred in producing them. Profitability can be increased by increasing income and decreasing expenditure, i.e. optimising production and cost efficiency. Often, it is not possible to increase production and more income can only be obtained by increasing quality. For this to happen, product quality needs to be monitored, with clear targets and ways to improve it, as well as evaluation and certification systems. Optimising expenditure does not necessarily mean reducing it, it is about choosing the best production and organisational scenarios, in full compliance with current legislation and good operating practices.

One of the factors determining the profitability of a farm is employment. This is an area of fundamental importance for the quality of work and production, highly regulated and often accounting for a significant proportion of production inputs. All this makes it necessary to have a well-thought-out plan for employing both permanent and temporary workers, ensuring that they have legal working and living conditions on the farm. Such a plan should also provide solutions for the absence of workers important to the work and production process, as well as the possibility of using specialised companies.