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‘If young people are chased out of the sector, we really have a problem’

In its agricultural policy, the European Commission has paid too little attention to the greater importance of food production. According to Peter Meedendorp, this is evident from the farm-to-fork strategy, among other things. As chairman of Ceja, the European umbrella organization for young farmers, he sees it as his task to draw attention to this importance.

Peter Meedendorp (23) from Onstwedde in Groningen was elected chairman of Ceja in June, the European umbrella organization for young farmers’ organisations. He has a passion for farming and a fascination for the European Union. At the same time, Meedendorp sees little interest in ‘Brussels’ among many others and he considers that a missed opportunity.

Sustainable farming also means retaining agricultural entrepreneurs

Peter Meedendorp, chairman of Ceja

‘In general, the European Union is a neglected child. This is reflected in the attention paid to it, or rather the lack of it. You can see that, for example, in the amount and capacity that interest groups and media deploy on Europe, compared to what is deployed on Dutch politics. That’s too poor. The whole agricultural policy starts and ends there.’

What attracts you to this position?

‘I find European decision-making very interesting. It is much more a balancing act than in the national parliament. In the EU you have 27 member states with all different interests and interests. And then you also have the European Parliament and the European Commission.

‘The entire decision-making process depends on ‘checks and balances’ by the various institutions. I find that game fascinating. And they always end up with 27 different countries.’

What appeals to you in Ceja?

‘The people who represent Ceja are real young farmers who have their own business at home. They come from the countryside to Brussels to commit themselves to a specific member state and the organisation, but also to learn from each other. That human contact is an important part of the organization. That makes our organization very special.’

Why is it important to be active in Brussels?

‘The whole agricultural policy starts and ends there. All principles of European agricultural policy, including the Dutch one, are laid down in Europe. Whether it concerns the Common Agricultural Policy, water quality, crop protection and even the requirements for mechanization. This is all based on guidelines and regulations from Brussels, where the frameworks are outlined. Think of it as a coloring page: the European institutions make the drawing, the member states color it in.’

How is Ceja doing in Brussels?

‘We have 33 members, all organizations for young farmers. Those 33 organizations together represent 2 million young people, the current young farmers and market gardeners and those of the future. If you express one point of view on a particular file on behalf of those 33 clubs, that is a strong signal. And we notice that too. We are delighted to talk to you about agricultural dossiers.

‘The politicians know that our positions and proposals are realistic and practical. We are an organization that does not shy away from the challenges of the future, that is noticed.’

What are Ceja’s spearheads?

‘For us, for all young farmers’ organisations, point one is to enable business takeovers. The second is to create an agri-food cluster where farmers can earn something. These are the conditions for running a business as a young farmer.

‘There are also other points, such as the new European agricultural policy that will come into force from 2027, nature and biodiversity, water management and much more. And the European elections of 2024 are coming. Then there will be a new committee that will come up with other proposals. We also have to leave room to respond to that.’

And the sustainability transition?

“That is not up for discussion with us. For us it is more about how you are going to shape it. Because the implementation of this transition will make a difference in the lives of our members. How can we ensure that companies that want to continue can continue? If there are generic measures that drive the young generation out of the sector, we really have a problem.

‘In addition, you also need a certain critical mass as a sector. You need a certain supply of products to maintain cooperatives and chains and to keep knowledge up to date. If we are working so hard on sustainability that we no longer notice it, the sustainability transition can come back like a boomerang. I am genuinely concerned about that. Sustainable farming is also the preservation of farmers.’

Is that aspect of the transition being forgotten?

‘Yes I think so. When you ask the European Commission for a food strategy, they refer to the farm-to-fork strategy. But that strategy emphasizes the ecological part of the transition. Less emphasis is placed on socio-economic sustainability. Food also has a certain value. We have not sufficiently recognized the added value of food in the past period. That’s problematic.’

Why is that a problem?

“It’s about the food supply. I know that agriculture has certain emissions, but agriculture cannot be compared to any industry, we need food every day. Agriculture provides a basic need. A certain amount of production is needed to feed the continent.

‘In addition, there is such a thing as starting material and seeds, which are essential for the global food supply. I think that’s why you can’t compare the agricultural sector one-to-one with another sector.’

You have been appointed for two years. When did those two years pass for you?

‘My board period has been successful for me if I leave the organization better than when I started. Both internally, that we have found joint positions on policy documents, and that we have a better position in the European playing field of institutions. So that the voice of young farmers cannot be ignored in policies that concern us.

‘And finally, I hope that national organizations see Ceja as an extension of their own organization.’

Roots in agriculture

Peter Meedendorp (23) studied International Relations and Organizations at the University of Groningen and Economics in Wageningen. The Groningen man is part-time with his parents and brother. They have an arable farming and contracting business, the main crop is starch potatoes. In addition, the family also has sugar beet, hemp, barley, corn and onions. Meedendorp is a board member of the Dutch Agricultural Youth Contact (NAJK) and is responsible for the International portfolio. From that position he was elected chairman for a period of two years. In time, he will be in Brussels at least once a month. NAJK is now looking for a new international portfolio holder.

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