Farmers in entry-level stewardship could be exempted from CAP reform proposals requiring them to implement extra environmental measures in return for subsidies.

Concessions offered by Brussels suggest farmers could be exempt from one or more so-called greening measures – so long as they belong to a whole-farm environmental scheme that delivers benefits beyond goals outlined by the European Commission.

Brussels wants 30% of support payments to depend on farmers implementing three greening measures. Recipients would be expected to place 7% of their land in ecological focus areas; grow three different crops on arable land; and maintain permanent grassland.

The government believes entry-level stewardship meets the exemption criteria. “Our view would be that anybody in entry-level stewardship (ELS) complies and probably goes further than all three of the proposed greening measures put together,” said farm minister Jim Paice.

Brussels says only properly certified schemes should count towards greening. And it remains to be seen whether the commission believes entry-level stewardship fulfils this criteria – or whether special certification would have to be introduced.

Jim Paice – greening must apply across all of Europe

Mr Paice was speaking to Farmers Weekly following a farm council meeting of European agriculture ministers in Brussels on Tuesday (15 May).

“This isn’t just for the UK, it is for all of Europe” he said. “We don’t want to be the ones who do everything properly only to find some other states are ‘passporting’ some pale imitation of ELS.”

It would be wrong if countries with “much paler” green schemes only partially covering holdings tried to exempt their farmers from additional environmental measures, said Mr Paice. “We agree with the commission that greening must apply across the whole farm area,” he said.

An agreement remains some way off, however.

DEFRA continues to believe greening would be best achieved by transferring money away from direct payments under Pillar One of the CAP towards rural development payments under Pillar Two. But Brussels says greening under Pillar One is non-negotiable.

Mr Paice said: “There’s a very real danger of just green-washing – which is what we have been very concerned about all the way through. That is one reason we have always said Pillar Two is a better way of doing it, because you can have much more targeted and effective systems.”

The Pillar One vs Pillar Two conundrum continues to be a sticking point. It seemed “abundantly clear” that Brussels still wanted greening to be carried out under Pillar One, said Mr Paice. “We have to find a way of making it work,” he added.

Mr Paice said European farm commissioner Dacian Ciolos had given some ground but was still moving within the context of the three greening proposals. The UK government favoured a more flexible approach under Pillar Two, Mr Paice reiterated.

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