New rules came into force on 3 July that will make it easier for EU farmers to comply with several obligations under the so-called 'greening' in order to receive direct financial support. The new rules also aim to further increase the environmental performance of farming.
The greening rules oblige farmers to farm in accordance with three main practices that are considered beneficial to the environment, including diversifying crops, maintaining permanent grassland and dedicating a minimum of 5% of arable land to so-called 'ecological focus areas' (EFAs).
EFAs are diverse in nature, and vary according to EU country on the basis of national priorities and farming choices. They can include fallow land, field margins, hedges & trees and buffer strips, or areas planted with crops that help protect the soil such as catch crops – fast-growing crops grown between plantings of main crops – or nitrogen-fixing crops.
The new rules come as the result of a review of the greening obligations carried out in 2016 which identified where improvements could be made to make it simpler for farmers to meet the various different obligations especially on EFA and where rules could be adjusted to contribute more effectively to addressing the challenge of better environmental and biodiversity protection.
Among the key changes introduced by the new rules will be:
- simplified definitions of what constitutes an EFA and the conditions that have to be met for it to be designated as such
- more flexibility on what qualifies as an EFA, especially with regard to landscape features
- more flexibility for EU countries with regard to the period permitted for crop diversification, depending on their individual climatic conditions
- clearer definitions for EFAs designated as land lying fallow
- removing deadlines for sowing catch crops
- allowing a mixture of seeds for EFAs designated as nitrogen-fixing crops
- banning the use of pesticides on productive and potentially productive EFAs
Although the new rules have now entered into force, they do not need to be applied at national level until 2018 (the next full year for which farmers can claim direct support through the common agricultural policy - CAP). EU countries are however free to begin implementing some of them immediately if they wish to let their farmers take advantage of the new flexibilities already this year.
3 July 2017