MEPs have voted for existing environmental schemes to qualify farmers for the 30% of direct payments conditional on “greening” measures under CAP reform.
This would exempt those in recognised agri-environment schemes from setting aside an ecological focus area as well as having to meet greening requirements on permanent pasture and crop diversity, as long as the schemes they are in have at least an equivalent effect to that of the greening measures.
“It’s a very positive move as far as we’re concerned,” said Will Surman of the NFU’s Brussels office.
Voting on Wednesday on compromise agreements to CAP reform plans, the European Parliament’s committee on agriculture and rural development also said where measures on farm go beyond Pillar 1 greening requirements, claimants could also be paid under Pillar 2 for the same scheme. However, this move is likely to be challenged by the commission.
The MEPs also backed capping of support at €300,000 (£250,000), with payments reducing on a sliding scale from €150,000 (£125,000) upwards. Environmental payments would be excluded from capping calculations.
The European Commission wants to see aid levels converging between member states and MEPs approved a slightly faster rate for this than previously proposed. Also, importantly for claimants in Scotland and Wales, they voted to make the move from historical to area-based payments more gradual.
Other elements approved by MEPs:
- Member states to choose whether to spend 15% of support on measures linked to production or animal numbers, an increase from the 10% proposed by the commission
- Up to 15% of direct aid can be moved from Pillar 1 to rural development measures under Pillar 2
- Ecological focus areas (EFAs) reduced to at least 3% of farmland rather than 7% originally proposed (possibly increasing to 5% from 2016 and 7% from 2017)
- Introduction of an income stabilisation tool – a fund to provide compensation to farmers who experience a severe drop in their income – a move that the UK has opposed
- Compulsory young farmers’ scheme, with member states allocating 2% of the national envelope and a 25% top-up in payments a hectare up to a limit of 100ha
- Claimants who cannot prove that farming is significant to their business should be excluded from direct payments – member states to decide on this
- The new greening rules would only apply to farms larger than 10ha, with farms with an arable area between 10ha and 30ha having to grow at least two crops, with no crop covering more than 80% of the land.
- Farms with arable areas larger than 30ha would have to grow at least three crops, with the main crop on no more than 75% of the arable land and the two main crops covering less than 95% of the arable area.
- Sugar quotas to be extended until end of 2019-2020 marketing year – the commission to report before 1 July 2018 on procedure to end current regime
- Milk quotas to end, but a new supply management tool to be introduced to counter milk market imbalance
- Crisis management measures for disruption to fruit and vegetable market prices on health concerns
- Stronger role for producer organisations – producer organisations extended to all sectors
- Reintroduction of intervention buying and private storage schemes for some products
The full European Parliament will vote on these measures in March. The Irish presidency of the EU will run its first farm ministers council in Brussels next week.
Keep up with the latest on CAP reform.