The European Commission has unveiled the first list of environmentally friendly practices that could receive EU funding in the next Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the EU’s farming subsidy programme.
The list aims to contribute to the debate around the CAP reform and its role in reaching the targets of the EU’s Green Deal, a note from the Commission reads.
Eco-schemes are at the core of the green architecture of the Commission’s CAP proposal and are designed to reward farmers for certain agricultural practice considered important in delivering environmental goals.
Alongside practices already established in EU policy instruments such as organic farming and Integration Pest Management (IPM), the list put a strong focus on agroecology practices and animal welfare.
Organic farming and IPM practices can both rely on existing legislative frameworks, respectively, the recently reformed organic production and labelling of organic products regulation, and the directive on the sustainable use of pesticides, meant to be overhauled in the coming years in the context of the Farm to Fork Strategy.
The F2F strategy, the EU’s flagship sustainable food policy, contains a target for 25% of EU farmland to be farmed organically by 2030 and specifies that the Commission will put forward an action plan on organic farming to help member states stimulate both supply and demand for organic products.
The IPM practices are an important part of the EU’s strategy to decrease farmers dependence on pesticides and involve an integrated approach to plant protection including sustainable biological and other non-chemical methods such as living organisms that are naturally pathogenic to or out-compete pests.
In February, the EU auditors recommended that the Commission should include IPM practices as a condition for receiving payments under the new CAP programme, but the Commission rejected the recommendation.
Agroecology and its younger sibling, agroforestry, have a prime position on the Commission’s list, particularly when it comes to crop management and maintenance of landscape features.
Husbandry and animal welfare also entered the list with practices that include feeding plans and friendly housing conditions such as increased space allowances per animal.
As expected, Conservation Agriculture (CA) and other farming practices designed to avoid physical degradation of the soil have been included, as well as measures to boost soil carbon sequestration, which is a cornerstone of regenerative farming.
Precision farming actions can be funded as environmentally friendly practices under the new CAP program when they are intended to reduce fertiliser and pesticide use or to minimise nutrient release.
The Commission has also listed protecting water resources and managing crop water demand as worthy of the EU’s eco-incentives.
On 15 January, German water companies warned of the risk that current conventional agricultural practices can cause irreparable damage to groundwater quality, calling on the Commission to better align CAP to Green Deal objectives.
The budget figure for eco-scheme is currently under discussions in the final CAP negotiations between EU ministers and the European Parliament, with the latter proposing a higher amount of €58.7 billion.
Once the CAP reform is sealed by the EU legislators, member states will be expected to declare the eco-schemes they intend to pursue in their national strategic plans, which the EU executive will ultimately have to approve.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]