This issue and controversy of “Greening Measures”

In the past, reforms in agriculture policy development responded to economic and production challenges endogenous to agriculture. Subsidies linked to production created market distortion leading to wine lakes and butter mountains. Subsidies linked to size of arable tackled problems of over-production but ran the risk of ending up in the hand of large landowners and didn’t support sustainable production. Currently, challenges to policy reform lie in how to deal with sustainability of agriculture in the long run in terms of economic, environmental and social impact.

In the current CAP, under pillar one, farmers have to comply (cross-compliance) with food safety, animal welfare and environmental standards to be eligible for subsidy, but instruments in support of environmental and rural development (pillar two) are de-linked from the direct payment system. “Greening” policy is a secondary aspect dealt with in pillar two: rural development. Member states are free to spend 10% of the budget for direct payment on environmental measures, f.e., supporting sustainable farming.  (source1/5). According to critics, this approach doesn’t lead to sustainable farming in the future.

The EC proposed “greening measures” in the new CAP to further support innovation in and sustainability of farming by linking them to the system of direct payments (pillar one). The strength in these measures lies in the fact that they create a leveled playing field in the Union, because they are compulsory for almost all farmers. The greening measures go beyond cross-compliance obligations and raise the baseline, thereby increasing the environmental ambitions of the Union as a whole.

So what do these greening measures involve?

In order for a farmer to be eligible for subsidy in pillar one, the pillar of direct payments to farmer, he or she must (source2/6):

–          Maintain an area of permanent grassland; the goal of this measure is to prevent soil erosion and carbon release by creating maintained carbon sinks. Permanent grassland applies to land out of crop rotation for 5 years or more, including land with tree where grazing is possible.

–          Apply methods of crop diversification; the main goal of this measure is to make monoculture farms more environmentally sustainable. The farmer is obliged to grow at least 3 different crops, with the largest crop covering no more than 70% of his arable area.

–          Keeping 7% of farmland as “Ecological Focus Area” (EFA); this measure holds that farmers create and maintain buffer strips and landscape features to increase biodiversity, landscape appeal and act as carbon sinks.

There have been over 7000 amendments to CAP since the original proposal. The arguments from stakeholders against these measures in their proposed form are manifold. To mention some:

–          Small mixed farms would have difficulty to adhere to crop diversification obligations (source5).

–          According to farmers responding to a NAV poll, the cost of and returns on land, at least in the Netherlands, are simply too high to have it lay idle (source3).

–          According to COMAGRI’s chairman Paolo De Castro, CAP costs are too high as it. Many states want to cut on the CAP which would require farmers to work more efficient and increase yields by investing in technology and further mechanization (source4).

–          In relation to the EFA’s, member states stress that under rural development in pillar two, policies are regionally adaptable, which means that states can design and implement policy which suit their local/regional “greening” needs. Linking greening measures to the direct payment system is thought to counter this flexibility and increase cost of implementation (source1/6).

The proposed greening measures in the new CAP have to be adapted into a policy document which is workable for the many types of farmers and other agricultural stakeholders Europe has, while still achieving its environmental targets. Proposed compromises are being reviewed by the COMAGRI (Committee on agriculture and rural development). The question is how much of the EU environmental ambition will remain intact?

YFM thinks that the proposed compromises will turn back the clock and will not reflect an innovative and sustainable CAP as envisioned by so many. On the 23th of January, COMAGRI has voted on and accepted all proposed compromises, thereby preparing a document for the Euro-parliament to vote on coming June (Source7).

It’s 5 minutes to 12 and if we want a radical change toward sustainable agriculture, some tough decions HAVE to be made, and not all stakeholders can be kept happy. If the Euro-parliament accepts the compromised CAP this June, it won’t be until 2020 that a new window of change opens for a green and sustainable European Common Agricultural Policy.

We want our politicians to be aware of the important choice they are going to make. Join us in our campaign and tell a member of parliament how you think about the CAP!