INTRODUCTION

Launched in 1962, the EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP) is a partnership between agriculture and society, and between Europe and its farmers. It aims to:

  • support farmers and improve agricultural productivity, ensuring a stable supply of affordable food;
  • safeguard European Union farmers to make a reasonable living;
  • help tackle climate change and the sustainable management of natural resources;
  • maintain rural areas and landscapes across the EU;
  • keep the rural economy alive by promoting jobs in farming, agri-foods industries and associated sectors.

The CAP is a common policy for all EU countries. It is managed and funded at European level from the resources of the EU’s budget. To consolidate the role of European agriculture for the future, the CAP has evolved over the years to meet changing economic circumstances and citizens’ requirements and needs. On 1 June 2018, the European Commission presented the legislative proposals on the future of the CAP. The proposals outline the way ahead for the CAP,  shaping a simpler and more efficient policy that will incorporate the sustainable ambitions of the European Green Deal. The future CAP reform is due to be implemented from 1 January 2023, pending final agreement between the European Parliament and the Council of the EU.

FLANDERS

In Flanders, the new CAP is divided in 7 main lines. It has not yet been decided what the support measures will be. Discussions are still ongoing on the type of support, the amount/percentage, limit, calculation method, and more. All possible measurements are divided into a sheet system. New in Flanders are the compensations related to C sequestration ('Eco-regulation organic carbon content in arable land'). Within this sheet, different measures are explained: (1) increase soil organic matter content at farm level based on the annual cultivation plan, (2) encourage the use of products with high C content at field level, and (3) rewarding farmers for parcels with good results in terms of soil OC content and soil pH. The main conditions for support are adding enough organic C per ha, achieving optimal pH at field level, and demonstrate by means of a sample that the plot is in the optimum zone for organic carbon and pH.

 Possible environmental effects:

  • The reduction of erosion and improved soil quality leads to less run-off of nutrients. This leads to better water quality.
  • Improves soil structure and increases moisture retention capacity of the soil.
  • Increased resistance of the soil to erosion due to improved soil structure.
  • Improvement of soil quality due to higher organic C content.
  • By sequestering CO2 in the soil, GHG emissions from soil are avoided.
  • By increasing the moisture retention capacity of the soil and through better root ability, the soil becomes more drought resistant (climate adaptation). 
  • Improving soil structure and soil fertility has a positive effect on the ecological state of the soil.
  • Reducing the risks of nitrate leaching and run-off leads to reduced risks for the ecological state of the watercourses.
  • Protection of crops against parasites and diseases through more and better soil life.

In the run-up to the new CAP (from 2023), farmers can already participate in five pre-ecoregulations that benefit the environment, climate and biodiversity. In relation to increasing the organic carbon content, an aid of €40/ha can be granted, if (1) C on average increases with >1500 kg/ha on arable land, (2) C is applied through the combination of main and secondary crops and (3) parcels were arable land were in 2020 and 2021

This measure will have an impact on the operation of farms. The exact impact depends on the extent to which these measures are already applied on the farm. Use of stable products with high C content (such as farmyard manure, compost, straw, wood chips, etc.) implies recycling and revaluation of valuable stable secondary raw materials.


FRANCE

Agri-environmental and Climate Measures (MAEC) make it possible to support farms that engage in the development of practices combining economic performance and environmental performance or in the maintenance of such practices when they are threatened with disappearance. It is a key tool for the implementation of the agro-ecological project for France. These measures are mobilized to respond to the environmental challenges encountered in the territories such as the preservation of the quality of water, biodiversity, soils or the fight against climate change. The European Environment Agency (EEA) report of 2019 clearly states that agricultural intensification remains one of the main causes of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation in Europe. In many parts of Europe, intensification has turned once varied landscapes, composed of many small fields and habitats, in one homogeneous and continuous landscape. This resulted in a decrease of the abundance and diversity of natural vegetation and, consequently, of animal species. As stated in the recent report of the European Court of auditors (ECA, 2020), since the last 40 years, European agriculture has maximized production with an increase of fertilization, use of pesticides and grazing intensity. The increase in the size of farms, the specialization of production have been a major factor in the disappearance of hedgerows, ditches and other agro environmental structures (AES). Large areas of permanent grassland have been tilled to produce cereals. The use of pesticides on this crops has an effect on the loss of biodiversity (especially pollinators), pollution of soils, water and general ecotoxicity.

In March 2020, the Commission published an evaluation report on the impact of the CAP on habitats, landscapes and biodiversity. The evaluation concluded that Member States have not made sufficient use of the available CAP instruments to protect semi-natural features, in particular grassland or wetlands, or to ensure that all semi-natural habitats that could be farmed are eligible for direct payments. The successive common agricultural policies (CAP) have only partially addressed biodiversity and the quality of the ecosystems.

This part is presenting some existing MAE in France that rewards the farmer for preserving biodiversity. The CAP finances it. The innovation described in this part concerns a MAE focused on maintaining biodiversity:
GRASS_03: total absence of mineral and organic fertilization on remarkable meadows and habitats
GRASS_04: adjustment of the grazing pressure over certain periods (loading of the plot on remarkable environment)
GRASS_06: mowing delay on remarkable meadows and habitats
GRASS_ 07: maintaining the flora richness of a natural meadow
GRASS_09: pastoral management
GRASS_10: management of lawns and moors in undergrowth
GRASS_11: absence of grazing and mowing in winter on remarkable wet meadows and habitats
HERBE_13: management of wetlands

Each MAE has specifications the farmer has to respect such has pesticide and fertilizer application, dates of mowing, load of animals at grazing…

For “GRASS_ 07: maintaining the flora richness of a natural meadow” the obligations of the specifications to be respected in return for the payment of the aid are described below:

  • Presence of at least 4 indicator plants of the good agro-ecological status of permanent grasslands among the list of 20 categories of indicator plants specified at the territory level 
  • Prohibition of grassland destruction for the engaged surfaces. Destruction, in particular by plowing or during heavy work, is prohibited. Only renewal by surface tillage is authorized over the 5 years of engagement. On site: visual and documentary Record book of interventions Definitive Main Total
  • Prohibition of the use of phytosanitary products, except localized treatments
  • Maintain on site a record book for interventions selected for the territory:

Keeping the intervention record book is an essential part of the control. Also, the absence or non-keeping of this log on the day of the control will result in the application of the sanctions regime, which can go as far as total reimbursement of the aid, even if this log must only include zero values. Some measures can lead to some trade off with economics: land productivity depending on specifications from some of the MAE. Dates of mowing or level of fertilization for example can lead to a decrease in yields for the engaged surface. Those “heavy specifications” measures lead to more important payment. Farmer can decide how many hectares he want to involve in the MAE, some minimum surface thresholds exists. The level of payment per hectare vary from 60 €/ha/year to 250 €/ha/year.

Video on establishing an environmental program for agriculture (French)

Additional information can be found on each member state ministry website on the regional agricultural administration for the list of MAE open in each territory, the specifications and the level of payment.


ESTONIA

As in other EU countries, the share of permanent grassland in Estonia is steadily decreasing. Valuable and species-rich grasslands are protected in nature reserves and Natura 2000 sites. However, there are a large number of long grazed and mowed grasslands outside protected areas which are similar in species composition and biodiversity to protected grasslands but are located in agricultural areas and have low economic value for farmers, and there is a constant pressure and desire to improve these grasslands through afforestation and cultivation. This measure aims to improve and maintain valuable and species-rich pastures and mowed heaths (forest edges) and to raise farmers' general awareness of the value of valuable grasslands.

 Research partners ( University of Tartu ) will map known valuable grasslands outside protected areas and Natura 2000 sites, which will be used to create an interactive map layer where farmers can see if they have valuable or potentially valuable grasslands. At the same time, a methodology and an indicator species inventory will be created for different grassland communities, where farmers can then determine for themselves whether they have indicator species in their grassland , then let the experts know - when an expert (botanist) will go on a field survey and add the valuable grassland to the map layer. Farmers will receive an additional payment of 60 € per ha for valuable grassland, 30 € per ha for potentially valuable grassland. Additional mowing after 15 July will give an extra €10 per hectare. The aid will be directed towards keeping grassland in grassland condition. It is recommended to remove biomass from permanent grassland in order to maintain vegetation biodiversity. Avoiding the use of mineral fertilisers and plant protection products will help to ensure natural biodiversity.

Requirements for the main intervention:

  • Valuable permanent grassland shall be maintained in grassland during the commitment period.  The maintenance of the grassland under grass cover means that the land is not ploughed, cultivated, stripped, harrowed or milled, and that no other work is carried out which would damage the grassland.
  • The restoration of valuable permanent grassland is prohibited.
  • The use of mineral fertilisers and plant protection products is prohibited.
  • Damage to grassland by overgrazing is prohibited.

The conditions for obtaining additional performance-related activity and the evaluation methodology will be piloted.

 LIFE-IP project (https://life.envir.ee/life-ip-forestfarmland).

Eligibility conditions:

Beneficiaries are farmers and other applicants for support.

  • The land for which support is granted must be located within the area eligible for agricultural payments and land consolidation and land-use areas.
  • Support may be claimed for at least 0.3 ha of permanent grassland.
  • Support will be paid for permanent grassland that has been assessed by experts as valuable or potentially valuable permanent grassland.
  • Valuable permanent grassland is considered to be heritage grassland located outside national protected natural sites. Potential valuable permanent grassland is defined as species-rich permanent grassland over 10 years old.