Thank you for the introduction Jaap, and thank you President Bartelds for a very interesting speech.
Elected representatives, LTO members, ladies and gentlemen,
I'm very pleased to be here with you today, thank you for your invitation. It's always a pleasure to visit the Netherlands. I grew up on a small farm in Ireland, and in my home region farmers always looked to this country as a beacon of agricultural innovation and efficiency.
A village close to where I grew up used to be called "Little Holland" because the farmers there were committed to emulating Dutch agricultural practices.
Many young Irish farmers went on placements in the Netherlands to develop their skills and technological capabilities.
Later, when I studied economics in university, it became clear that Ireland - which is a small, open economy where we export 90% of what we produce – looks to this country too as a shining light in terms of export orientation. You trade with more than 150 countries around the world. I was reminded of this fact in a very physical way when I visited the port of Rotterdam in September.
As Agriculture Commissioner, I see many of the priorities and principles I want to embed in farming policy across Europe already implemented here. This is a country that combines a strong and enduring respect for farmers with an equally strong and enduring commitment to innovation and progressive practices.
Your highly intensive and specialised farming sector enjoys a consistently impressive level of organisation and technological investment. And what you have achieved as an agricultural nation is remarkable.
Your innovative and export-oriented approach to agriculture contributed to this being the world's second largest exporter of agricultural products in terms of value in 2015.
You are the 4th biggest dairy producer in the EU. You are the number one exporter of cheese and whole milk powder, and second when it comes to butter.
Of the world's six largest companies in the dairy industry, one – Friesland Campina – is Dutch; and three of these companies have research and production facilities in the Netherlands, namely Danone, Nestle and Fonterra.
My engagement with the Netherlands this year has included as I mentioned a visit to the port of Rotterdam to witness a shipment of meat exports to China and the USA. I was particularly pleased to see the first shipment of Dutch veal to the US since the removal of the BSE ban on EU beef.
I know and appreciate the importance of the veal sector to the Netherlands, which accounts for 30% of EU veal production, so this was a real step forward.
More recently I visited Wageningen University to see first-hand the cutting edge of European agri-food research and science. Wageningen is a global leader in dairy expertise, along with strong players like Utrecht University and NIZO Food Research.
And during the first half of 2016 at the informal agricultural Council in the Netherlands, Minister van Dam introduced me to new and innovative ideas for future food production and food processing. I was very impressed by the leadership that your country shows in testing and developing new products and processes.
You have much to be proud of in the Dutch farming and food sector, but of course your farmers are also exposed to the same challenges and risks facing farmers throughout Europe. The last two years have been difficult for many of you, particularly in the dairy and pigmeat sectors.
I acknowledge the challenges you have faced, but I am also confident that the green shoots of recovery are now clearly there for all to see. Prices are rebounding, led in the Netherlands by Friesland Campina which has announced a significant milk price increase in recent months.
I want to take this opportunity to commend Friesland for showing market leadership in terms of increasing prices to farmers after two difficult years in the marketplace.
I am satisfied that the dairy market is stabilising, and I believe the strong action taken by the European Commission has been central to that recovery. In 2015 and 2016, we have freed up €1.5 Billion in Crisis Support to producers across a number of sectors, with a clear emphasis on helping our dairy farmers.
To bring greater balance to the market, this summer I introduced a milk production reduction scheme, which came into effect last month. The scheme has proven to be very attractive and the high level of participation is a clear indication that farmers supported this idea. The Netherlands was second in Europe in terms of participation rate, after the country I know best, Ireland.
However, we cannot keep throwing money at sectors to resolve short term problems. We must restructure and reform.
The crisis also led to a very difficult situation for pigmeat producers, but the signs of market recovery in the sector have been consistent for a number of months now.
China has been instrumental to that recovery, importing almost 1.5 million tonnes of EU pigmeat in 2016.
China is a massively important market, proven by the fact that our exports have increased by 47% year on year.
But there is also huge exposure to this market – when I see these numbers, my conviction that we need to broaden our range of export markets grows even stronger.
This is why I fought for recognition of your two key geographical indication products (Gouda Holland and Edam Holland) to be included in the CETA free trade agreement with Canada.
This is why I am centrally involved in the negotiations for a free trade agreement with Japan, which I believe will benefit Dutch exporters enormously.
And this is why in 2016 I went on a "diplomatic offensive" to help unlock new markets and grow exports for our farmers. I visited Mexico, Colombia, China, Japan, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Indonesia – each time bringing with me a trade delegation of EU food companies. Dutch operators, including Friesland Campina, participated prominently in many of these missions.
The Commission also took strong action by more than tripling the Agri-food Promotion Budget from €60m to €200m over the next four years.
These are the steps I have taken in the present day to support farmers and the broader agri-food sector. I will do everything in my power to support your potential to export, create jobs, and drive rural growth.
I am also keeping both eyes firmly on the future, and I am calling on you to support me in this vitally important work. As you know, earlier this month Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced a roadmap to begin designing the CAP of the future.
The President and I informed the Agricultural Outlook Conference in Brussels that the Commission will publish a Communication on the future of the CAP by the end of 2017. And this process will begin with a wide-ranging public consultation in the early new year, to which I invite you all to share your views.
This follows up on the Commission's commitment for its 2017 Work Programme to "modernise and simplify" the CAP so that it makes a stronger contribution to the Commission's job creation targets and sustainable development goals.
You may be wondering what this means in practice for the CAP.
I can tell you first of all that I will be looking to strongly safeguard significant financial support for farmers and rural areas. The European Union is committed in its founding treaty to guaranteeing a fair income for farmers, because our founding fathers had the wisdom and foresight to recognise that a fundamental building block in a Union of peace and prosperity is a reliable food supply for its citizens.
The position of farmers in the food sector and the need for an income safety net is important. But so too is the role of the farmer in the area of sustainability and the provision of public goods.
The people of this region know the importance of food security better than anyone, from their history after World War Two.
Food security can only be guaranteed if farmers in this generation and the generations to come can earn a decent living for themselves and their families. After all, you cannot have good quality food without good quality farmers.
But let's be clear: Meeting the nutritional needs of the growing world population means producing more food with the limited resources available on the planet. Our production improvements cannot come at the expense of tackling water stress, soil degradation, reduced biodiversity and air pollution.
The answer to the growing demand for food cannot be found in using more agricultural land – in many areas, that isn't even possible. Food security means a future where food is produced more efficiently - doing more with less.
This means that the environmental dimension of the CAP is not going away - in fact, it must become even stronger. The farming sector must do even more to help the EU meet its climate and sustainability targets. And even though this sounds like an additional burden for the farmers, we all know that the adaptation to more environment and climate friendly agricultural practices has enormous potential for on-farm economic development.
The future market opportunities for food require and demand sustainability. We ignore this fact at our peril.
In order to "produce more with less", significant investments in innovation and new technologies are needed. New technology can reduce inputs and avoid nutrient leakage from fields. Investments in new machinery will improve air quality and reduce GHG emissions.
We need to exchange knowledge and best practice to identify the most appropriate solutions for sustainable production. Innovation is vital – innovation to stay internationally competitive; innovation to meet growing demand; and innovation to increase sustainability and capitalise on consumer health, diet and convenience preferences.
As I have said on many occasions, farmers are our "boots on the ground" to protect the rural environment. If we are going to make increasing demands of farmers from an environmental point of view, as I believe is justified, then they deserve to be rewarded for the costs associated with the provision of those public goods, from which all of society benefits.
Let me address an environmental issue which is currently causing great concern among Dutch farmers: phosphates. I do not have line responsibility for this file – it falls to my colleague, Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella.
As a former environment minister I can share some insights. Farmers in Ireland incur a basic payment penalty through breaches in the Nitrates Directive. Some 2000 Irish farmers are penalised every year and it represents the single biggest cause of financial penalties that Irish farmers receive.
The first offence attracts an automatic penalty to the farmer's basic payment and each subsequent offence sees that penalty trebled. The derogation which Ireland has from the Nitrates Directive applies to about five thousand farmers and is critically important.
I know that Dutch industry, as well as Minister Van Dam and Commissioner Timmermans, have been in touch with Commissioner Vella on this issue. I also understand very well the difficulty the sector finds itself in, and I know that technical and political meetings are continuing to take place.
Your own organisation, LTO, has been actively engaged, both at national level and in Brussels. Everywhere I go, I stress to farmers the importance of being members of strong farm organisations, and LTO is up there with the very best.
The core of the matter is this: dairy growth is exceeding expectations, and we need a robust and convincing plan to come back to a situation which meets the regulatory and state aid requirements of the Commission's Environment and Competition authorities.
I appreciate that this is not easy, but the benefits of finding a solution are crystal clear. Transforming our agricultural production to be stronger on the environment and climate is part of our unique selling point abroad.
Europe is the best address in the world for food – why? Because we have the highest and most exacting safety and quality standards in the world. If we want to keep ahead of the competition, we must realise that tomorrow's consumer also wants evidence of environmental safety and compliance.
So improving our environmental performance is a win-win: it strengthens the marketability of our products while preserving the environment for future generations.
My work to modernise and simplify the CAP is guided by a number of overarching principles, which I believe will assist you in this process.
Firstly, I am doing my best to make the CAP simpler for you. I brought in a yellow card system for farm inspections, which farmers have strongly supported. I will continue to prioritise the removal of red tape and reducing controls for farmers.
Secondly, I am going to prioritise generational renewal within the sector, notably through improved access to credit for young farmers.
I set up the Agrimarkets Taskforce under the Chairmanship of your former agriculture minister Cees Veerman, and the Taskforce has issued a number of recommendations for stronger and better financial instruments in the sector. I will be looking at ways to address this issue in 2017.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have just completed two years as your Commissioner. As you can see in the leaflet which I have distributed, I am on the side of the farmer, and I will remain so going forward. I look forward to working with you in 2017 and beyond. Thank you.