Science - November 18, 2010

The EU wants agriculture to become greener

Text:
Joris Tielens

The EU Agriculture Commissioner wants farming subsidies to be linked to nature conservation. LEI and Alterra are investigating what consequences this will have for the Netherlands.

The European Commission wants to make agricultural policy 'greener'. In this scenario subsidies for farmers would be linked to objectives for nature and the environment. In addition, Europe wants to get farmers to provide 'green services' in return for payments.
These points are in the vision of agricultural policy to be presented by Dacian CioloĊŸ on 18 November. A draft version of this document has already been circulating for some time among researchers and other people involved in this area.
Researchers at Alterra and LEI are analyzing the consequences of the plans for the Netherlands. 'Reforming agricultural policy is a lengthy process', says LEI researcher Petra Berkhout. 'What the Commission is doing now is putting out markers to show it is moving in the direction of a greener policy.' Alterra researcher Anne van Doorn adds: 'For us, this announcement will serve as the basis for our research during the coming year. We will be drawing up scenarios for the potential impact on the Netherlands. The Commission will be coming up with concrete proposals and specific figures in a year's time.'
More focus on nature
The EU already encourages sustainable rural development through the so-called second pillar of its agricultural policy. Now more consideration will be given to the environment, nature and sustainability in the first pillar, the direct subsidies to farmers. There will be compensation for farmers who provide green services in addition to the existing conditions relating to the environment. Furthermore, member states will be able to provide extra support to small-scale farmers while on the other hand a maximum will be imposed on subsidies to large-scale farmers.
Member states will also be able to provide extra support for farmers in ecologically restricted areas. Anne van Doorn on this subject: 'The old hill farmers' support system will be included in the first pillar. In other words, part of the income support will be linked to the area where the farm is located. If it is difficult land to farm, more support is permitted.' According to Van Doorn, this will enable the Netherlands to provide extra support to farmers in areas of value to society such as the Veenweiden (meadows surrounded by bogs) or small-scale habitats. The farmers will be rewarded for conserving the habitat, which is what the previous Cabinet had already said it intended doing.

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