The European Commission has offered to water down CAP reform plans that would impose stringent environmental conditions on farmers.

Brussels is now willing to exempt farmers in whole-farm agri-environment schemes from some or several of the commission’s so-called greening measures.

The suggestion is contained in a “concept paper” circulated by the commission ahead of a farm council meeting in Brussels on Tuesday (15 May).

It raises the prospect that farmers in schemes such as Entry-Level Stewardship (ELS) may no longer be required to place 7% of their land into designated ecological focus areas.

The commission has offered the concession in a bid to appease farm ministers from across Europe who want a more flexible approach to greening.

The four-page concept paper argues that the concession could bring simplification while recognising the efforts of farmers who already undertake environmental measures.

But it remains to be seen whether it is enough to satisfy member states.

English farm leaders consider ELS to be a whole-farm environment scheme.

This is because scheme points are built up across the whole farm, even though not every hectare of land is managed specifically for the environment.

But DEFRA has yet to comment on the proposals – or whether its own interpretation of the concession would count ELS as an acceptable greening measure.

Meanwhile, in a further move, the paper suggests the commission is now willing to accept that areas of grazable non-herbaceous species can be included in its definition of permanent grassland.

This concession aims to address the concerns of farmers who would be required to maintain 95% of the permanent grassland on their farms.

The commission is also offering to increase the threshold above which growers must cultivate at least three crops.

Currently, a “crop diversity” rule would force farmers with more than 3ha to cultivate at least three crops, none accounting for more than 70% and the third at least 5% of their arable area.

The paper suggests the threshold could be increased to between 3ha and 10ha, with an exemption for farms under 50ha where a significant amount of land is grass or fallow.

For more on this topic

See our CAP reform page