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Rural Development policy 2007-2013

Commission Communication: 'Towards a better targeting of the aid to farmers in areas with natural handicaps'

21/04/2009 - The European Commission adopted today a Communication paving the way for a new classification of agricultural areas with natural handicaps. With the help of scientific experts, the Commission has identified 8 soil and climate criteria as a basis for objectively and clearly classifying such areas. However, before presenting a legislative proposal, the Commission needs more data to assess their feasibility. Therefore, Member States are asked to provide simulations using national data to show how the criteria might work. The new classification system is likely to be in place in 2014; meanwhile the current system remains in force.

Communication from the Commission:  "Towards a better targeting of the aid to farmers in areas with natural handicaps" 
available [pdf] in:

Technical annex: Technical details for possible common criteria available [pdf] in: en

Impact assessment:

Text available [pdf] in: en

Annexes: 1(1) available [pdf] in: en / 1(2) available [pdf] in: en / 2-7 available [pdf] in: en / 8-12  available [pdf] in: en

Summary available [pdf] in: bgcsdadeetelenesfritlvlthumtnlplptroskslfisv

Press release available in: bgcsdadeetelenesfritlvlthumtnlplptroskslfisv

Citizens' summary available [pdf] in: bgcsdadeetelenesfritlvlthumtnlplptroskslfisv

Newsletter available [pdf] in: en

Why is there a need for a Communication?

The aid scheme to farmers in areas with natural handicaps needs to be refreshed in order to

  • adapt the intermediate LFA delimitation and payment system to the land management objectives decided by the Council in 2005,
  • improve its transparency and objectivity while giving due weight to national and regional peculiarities,
  • promote the targeting of the aid to the area for which the hazard of land abandonment is greatest.

Setting out a common framework for classifying areas with natural handicaps, other than those which are mountainous in character and those with specific handicaps, on the basis of common objective criteria would enhance the transparency, the robustness and the coherence of the area delimitation system throughout the EU.

The data available to the Commission at pan-European level are not sufficient for carrying out a simulation at detailed scale of the application of possible common criteria identified during the impact assessment, which should underpin a legislative proposal to make the scheme more effective.

What is being asked for from Member States?

In order to facilitate the achievement of the Community's tasks, and in particular to provide a solid basis for elaborating the required legislative proposal, the Commission asks that Member States simulate the application, on their territory, of the biophysical criteria listed in the Communication and to produce maps of the areas that would result under such simulations. The simulations should show the area that would be delimited according to the biophysical criteria appropriately fine-tuned, when necessary and according to the indications provided in the technical annex accompanying this Communication, in order to exclude the areas where the natural handicap has been overcome.

The simulations should be carried out at a sufficiently detailed territorial level, e.g. LAU 2 in the nomenclature of territorial units for statistics.

The resultant maps will not be considered as a new LFA delimitation but will constitute a valuable means of gauging the feasibility of the review options identified and eventually underpin a future legal proposal setting up the framework for a new LFA delimitation in a long-term perspective.

The Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions are invited to discuss the main lines of the Communication. The Member States are invited to carry out the simulations and send the resulting maps to the Commission services during the six months following the adoption of the Communication.

Common Biophysical criteria

The table below lists the common soil, climate and terrain criteria for classifying land according to its suitability for generic agricultural activity, as well as the threshold values indicating agricultural areas with severe natural handicap to agriculture.




Low Temperature Length of Growing Period (number of days) defined by number of days with daily average temperature > 5°C (LGPt5) OR ≤ 180 days OR
Thermal-time sum (degree-days) for Growing Period defined by accumulated daily average temperature > 5°C. ≤ 1500 degree-days
Heat Stress Number and length of continuous periods (number of days) within the growing period for which daily maximum temperature (Tmax) exceeds the threshold. One or more periods of at least 10 consecutive days with daily Tmax > 35°C


Drainage Areas which are water logged for significant duration of the year (lack of gaseous oxygen in soil for root growth or land not accessible for tillage). Poorly drained soil
Texture and Stoniness Relative abundance of clay, silt, sand, organic matter (weight %) and coarse material (volumetric %) fractions in top soil material. > 15% of topsoil volume is coarse material OR
Unsorted, coarse or medium sand, loamy coarse sand OR
Heavy clay (>60% clay) OR
Organic OR
Vertisol, clay, silty clay or sandy clay with vertic properties OR
Rock outcrop, boulder within 15 cm of the surface
Rooting depth Depth (cm) from soil surface to coherent hard rock or hard pan. < 30 cm
Chemical properties Presence of salts, exchangeable sodium and gypsum (toxicity) in the topsoil. Salinity: > 4 deci-Siemens per meter (dS/m) OR
Sodicity: > 6 Exchangeable Sodium Percentage (ESP) OR
Gypsum: > 15%


Soil Moisture Balance Number of days within growing period as defined by temperature > 5°C (LGPt5), for which the amount of precipitation and water available in the soil profile exceeds half of potential evapotranspiration. ≤ 90 days


Slope Change of elevation with respect to planimetric distance (%). > 15%


Citizens' Summary

The Commission services have also provided a citizens' summary to impart further information on the Communication. The summary is available [pdf] in the following languages: bgcsdadeetelenesfritlvlthumtnlplptroskslfisv

What is the planned timetable?

The Commission presented a Communication to the Council, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on 21 April 2009.

National authorities should send their simulations to the Commission by 21 October 2009. The new classification system is likely to be in place in 2014.



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Monitoring and evaluation

Less Favoured Area scheme:

  - Introduction

  - Communication

  - Review




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Last update: 21-04-2009