The United States is asking other nations to join it in a "coalition for productivity growth," an effort emerging — in part — as a counter to the European Union’s Farm-to-Fork strategy that seeks steep cuts in the use of pesticides and fertilizers.

In a call from Florence, Italy, where he has been meeting with agriculture ministers ahead of the full G-20 summit next month, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters the U.S. wants to show that farmers can engage in climate-smart practices without sacrificing productivity.

“There is a concern in many parts of the world that sustainable agriculture could result in a reduction” in the amount of food farmers produce, Vilsack said. “We’re pushing back on that notion. We believe that actually, a more sustainable agriculture can also be a more productive agriculture and can, in fact, meet the needs and demands of a growing global population.”

Part of the reason behind a productivity coalition is to provide a “counterbalance” to the EU’s Farm-to-Fork and its biodiversity strategies, which have raised concerns among farmers throughout the 27-nation bloc. The EU is proposing to cut the use of pesticides on farms and antimicrobials in medicated feed by 50% while also reducing fertilizer usage by 20% by 2030.

A report by the USDA’s Economic Research Service issued last November concluded that if the same strategies were adopted worldwide, global ag production could drop by as much as 4% and food prices could rise 89%.

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“The goal here is to make sure that at the end of the day, people understand that there are multiple ways, appropriate ways, recognized ways to get to a more sustainable future, that we're not in a situation where we leave the marketing or the playing field, if you will, to the EU,” Vilsack said.

Offering some more specifics, Vilsack said, “We think it's possible and appropriate for science and innovation to play a significant role in helping farmers be more productive and being more sustainable” and that “biotechnology, gene editing, research and development, (Artificial Intelligence), new precision agriculture are all strategies and techniques and technologies that can be used.”

The effort to get other countries in the productivity coalition has just begun, Vilsack said. However, he said Brazil had expressed interest in joining and he hoped other like-minded countries would be as well.

“One of the reasons why I came to Florence was to make sure that we started personally and aggressively promoting this notion, which we're going to sort of launch, if you will, at the UN food summit.”

The United Nations Food Systems Summit is taking place Thursday, Sept. 23.

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