French organic farmer Pierre Pujos describes how field and farm sizes have grown in the area around him during the last 15 years, hitting farmer numbers, eroding top soils, ruining soil quality and destroying local biodiversity. The ex government crop chemicals scientist blames the associated increase in mechanisation and capital outlay to the overall effects of the EU Common Agricultural Policy.
In addition to the CAP’s physical effects are the social ones, not least in rural depopulation and further declines in the numbers employed in farming.
He argues instead that the CAP should favour human-scale farms and encourage organic farming practices that are suited to local conditions. In the case of the Gers, Pujos has found success in experimenting with shallow cultivation techniques on 80 hectares of land. He plants mixed cereal and leguminous crops to help loosen compacted soils, improve soil fertility, increase organic matter content and local biodiversity. The approach limits tractor passes, saving money on machinery investment, wear and the costs of diesel and chemicals. So while farm income is modest, so are costs, boosting margins per hectare.
The region suffers chronic soil erosion problems, made worse by the heavy clay soils, fields on slopes and conventional farming techniques that leave the earth bare for extended stretches.
Pujos argues for CAP policies that favour agro-forestry – the mixing of trees and crops in single fields – and replanting grubbed native-species hedges around fields to retain soil moisture, encourage temperate micro-climates and offer animal and plant habitats.