Aims of greening
Around half of the European Union's area is farmed land. Farmers act as managers of the countryside, they shape landscapes and through their work, farmers provide public goods beneficial to all. However, farmers also depend on natural resources, such as soil and water, for their living. Farming activities are affected by climatic events, the state of the environment, biodiversity and water quality.
The “green direct payment” (or “greening”) supports farmers who adopt or maintain farming practices that help meet environmental and climate goals. Through greening, the European Union (EU) rewards farmers for preserving natural resources and providing public goods, which are benefits to the public that are not reflected in market prices.
EU countries have to allocate 30% of their income support to "greening".
Greening payments in practice
Farmers receive the green direct payment if they comply with three mandatory practices that benefit the environment (soil and biodiversity in particular).
The three actions farmers have to put in place are:
- crop diversification: a greater variety of crops makes soil and ecosystems more resilient;
- maintaining permanent grassland: grassland supports carbon sequestration and protects biodiversity (habitats);
- dedicate 5% of arable land to areas beneficial for biodiversity: Ecological Focus Areas (EFA), for example trees, hedges or land left fallow that improves biodiversity and habitats.
Farms with more than 10 ha of arable land have to grow at least two crops, while at least three crops are required on farms with more than 30 ha. The main crop may not cover more than 75% of the land. There are exemptions to the rules, depending on the individual situation. For instance, farmers with a large proportion of grassland, which is in itself environmentally beneficial.
Maintenance of permanent grassland
The ratio of permanent grassland to agricultural land is set by EU countries at national or regional level (with a 5% margin of flexibility). Moreover, EU countries designate areas of environmentally sensitive permanent grassland. Farmers cannot plough or convert permanent grassland in these areas.
Ecological focus areas
Farmers with arable land exceeding 15 ha must ensure that at least 5% of their land is an Ecological Focus Area in order to safeguard and improve biodiversity on farms.
The greening rules do not apply to farmers who opted for the small farmer’s scheme, for administrative and proportionality reasons.
Organic farmers automatically receive a greening payment for their farm, as they are considered to provide environmental benefits by the nature of their work.
Other exemptions may apply, depending on the individual situation of a farmer.
Alternatives to greening
EU countries may allow farmers to meet one or more greening requirements through equivalent practices. Equivalent practices must be based on agri-environment schemes under EU countries' rural development programmes or national/regional certification schemes.
Each EU country ensures that farmers using alternative practices do not benefit from both income support for mandatory greening and rural development funds.
Penalties for non-compliance
Farmers who do not respect greening rules receive less money. Such reductions reflect the number of hectares identified as non-compliant, taking into account the nature of the greening requirement.
Since 2017, national governments can impose administrative penalties on top of the reduction in greening payments. Administrative penalties have to be proportionate, depending on the severity and scope of the non-compliance.
Greening is governed by the following: