Last year's Forum for the Future of Agriculture focused on the process of Common Agricultural Process (CAP) reform, at that point in its nascent stages. The proposal for an overhaul of the CAP is now on the table, and one of the most controversial aspects is the ‘greening' of the CAP – tying direct payments to environmentally-sound practices.
The proposal, put forward by the European Commission in October, would make almost one-third of CAP direct payments conditional on fulfilling a specific list of environmental criteria. In order to receive these payments, farmers would have to fulfil three conditions: they must set-aside 7% of arable land for biodiversity purposes; they must increase crop diversity to at least three crops per farm; and they must create permanent pastures starting in 2014.
Member states and MEPs have criticised the greening proposal. Farm ministers have complained that it is inflexible and will be too expensive for farmers, many of whom are already struggling. MEPs from member states that rely heavily on agriculture, mostly from the centre-right of the political spectrum, have complained that it would involve far too much bureaucracy. Others have said that farmers should have more green measures to choose from.
At the same time, many farmers have come to accept the role that agriculture can play both in causing environmental damage and abating it. Tony Long, director-general of WWF Europe, will discuss these issues at FFA 2012. Environmentalists have argued that sustainable farming practices have an important role to play in solving not only the climate-change challenge but also problems of pollution and food shortages.
Farmers also recognise that the CAP faces a major PR problem with EU citizens, with many believing that it is a wasteful, bloated programme. The Commission has emphasised that in order for the CAP to have legitimacy with the public it needs to demonstrate that there are benefits not just for farmers but also for society as a whole. Giving farmers income support based on what they have received from the CAP in the past is no longer tenable, the Commission argues.
Greening is only one of the elements of CAP reform that will be discussed at FFA 2012, but it will be a major one. Clashes between environmentalists and farmers are likely as the usefulness and practicality of the proposed green requirements are debated.