Prague – Floods in Moravia but also in other parts of the country could not have been that disastrous if fields above the flooded villages did not look like huge plates from which water and soil slides down into houses, onto roads and into rivers.
After many years of intensive farming, soil has lost its ability to retain water and protect against floods.
The Agriculture Ministry now wants to change what has been a common practice on most fields in the country. It has prepared a proposal for new binding rules for farmers in an effort to return the ability to retain devastating rain to land.
“We are trying to achieve that agriculture is not just production of foodstuffs, but also that farmland fulfills other roles including the retention of water in the landscape,” said Kateřina Čapounová, secretary to Deputy Agriculture Minister Jiří Urban who is in charge of preparations of new farming rules known as GAEC.
If the government approves these binding rules and a farmer fails to comply with them, he could lose part of state subsidies. Besides soil protection, the new rules are also designed to protect water from pollution and to protect biodiversity.
Town hall suing farmers
Farmers already now have to meet five basic standards of the so-called good agricultural and environmental condition, but in reality these rules are not too efficient.
The small village of Němčovice in the Rokycany district has even filed a lawsuit against a local agricultural company. For several times already, heavy rain has swept soil into houses, onto roads and pavements and even into the sewage system and to the local fishpond.
Mayor Karel Ferschmann is convinced that not rain, but farming is to blame for that mud flooded his village. “They do not farm, they do business,” Ferschmann told Aktuálně.cz. He lost the first round at the District Court in Rokycany, but has appealed and now is waiting for a hearing at the Regional Court in Plzeň.
Erosion endangers half of land
Farmland is in a very bad condition at present, experts say. “Water erosion endangers 42.2% of farmland and wind erosion 7.5%,” says the latest report on environment in the Czech Republic, which the government receives every autumn.
Milan Kouřil of the Agriculture Ministry said that water takes as many as 150 tonnes of soil from one hectare in a single year in some localities in the Czech Republic, which is many times more than the limits.
At present, there are places in south Moravia, for instance, where the rock passes through arable land. “Farming destroys soil on a massive scale,” Kouřil told Aktuálně.cz.
What also causes problems is the fact that a large part of farmers use rented land, so they often do not care about what the soil will look like let’s say in fifty years.
Traditional dung to return to fields
The good agricultural and environmental condition (GAEC) standards are based on a new EU legislation and are to come into force as of next year.
According to the standards, for instance fields with slope bigger than seven degrees cannot be left without protective vegetation during winter or have to be ploughed only. In very endangered areas, it will be forbidden to grow maize, potatoes, beet and other crops that are risky in terms of soil erosion.
The Agriculture Ministry is also proposing that every farmer use traditional dung, compost, crop residues on 20% of arable land they use, or to grow there alfalfa or clover that help improve the structure of soil.
That should add organic matter to soil, which has a favourable effect on the condition and quality of soil and helps retain water.
If there was too much water on fields, farmers would not be able to use heavy machinery there. It would also be forbidden to liquidate hedgerows, alleys, fishponds and other landscape features that help retain water and prevent erosion.
It’s all wrong, the chamber says
It will not be easy for the Agriculture Ministry to push through the new farming rules. For instance the influential Agrarian Chamber criticises the proposal and will attempt to change the prepared document already at this week’s key meeting at the ministry.
“The whole proposal is wrong. It would mean an enormous burden for farmers,” the chamber secretary Martin Fantyš told Aktuálně.cz. The association criticises for instance the fact that each farmer would have to plant a substitute commodity on a fifth of their fields.
“Setting 20% of area aside in the current economic situation is an absolute nonsense,” said Fantyš. He added that farmers also cannot guarantee that hedgerows and groups of trees do not disappear from their land.
“Someone can cut it off at night and the innocent farmer will get fined,” Fantyš said.
The Agriculture Ministry rejects such arguments. “It is by no means a winddown of agricultural production. It is not necessary to explain these rules to a farmer who takes care for his land because he adopts them,” the ministry’s Milan Kouřil said.