"If that new fertiliser action plan goes through like this, it's the end of the story for me." Boom. I taste the mix of upset and anger in the voice of Lorenzo, a young farmer. "Not being allowed to use so much land, it's just no longer profitable."
Just prior to our conversation in December 2022, a proposal for a new Fertiliser Action Plan in Flanders, Belgium (MAP7) leaks out. This will determine, among other things, how much and where farmers can use fertiliser. Where does the leak come from? Is this really what is to come? Will there be any adjustments? Many questions, and the result so far: a spectacle on Twitter and in TV studios. Stress and uncertainty among those bearing the consequences.
I slump down discouraged. Agriculture and food are at the crossroads of the greatest challenges of our time: climate, environment, poverty... But the way the discussion is being conducted does not reflect that. I see big positions with increasingly sharp caricatures. At one extreme, the "poison-spraying farmer" who doesn't want to know about change. At the other extreme, the "climate geeks and environmental terrorists" are on a mission to destroy agriculture.
But this evening tempers my misanthropy. We are hosted at the Gansbeke family's dairy farm in Lokeren, Belgium. Eight young farmers and eight students from different study backgrounds are present, at the invitation of Rikolto and Groene Kring, the association of young farmers and horticulturists. Together, we worked out a dialogue concept to break through the polarisation in the food debate.