Commission proposes ban on pesticides on Ecological Focus Areas

The European Commission has proposed a ban on using pesticides on productive or potentially productive Ecologocal Focus Areas, following last year’s Greening review.

The proposed ban was revealed in a presentation this week to the European Parliament’s Agriculture Committee, by Pierre Bascou, from DG Agriculture at the Commission.

This ban on pesticides would affect nitrogen-fixing crops, catch crops and green cover, land lying fallow and strips along forest in EFAs.

He said that such a ban is intended to “better meet the needs of EFAs” which is to preserve and promote biodiversity.

Outcomes of the greening review

Four main priority areas for the simplification and enhancement of Greening were identified, Bascou said. These aim to:

  • Specify and/or clarify what is required from farmers and national administrations, especially as regards landscape features.
  • Remove burdensome technical requirements without lowering the environmental benefits (for catch crops the deadline is instrumental here).
  • Provide more flexibility or an alternative where this increases the environmental and climate benefit of Greening.
  • Harmonise some specific requirements to better achieve the environmental objective of EFAs.

In response to these key priorities, the review is accompanied by a set of 14 concrete measures, which will result in changes to Delegated Regulation (mainly one Article (45) of Reg. (EU) No 639/2014).

Main measures by EFA type

Under the land lying fallow EFA, the Commission has proposed establishing a common minimal duration of six months for a given calendar year.

The Commission also intends to remove the deadline for sowing catch crops or green cover (currently before October 1) and then have a common minimum duration of eight weeks for catch crops and green cover.

It has also proposed adjusting the list of species for under-sowing (for example, allowing farmers to grow leguminous crops)

Currently, farmers have to stick to a single species of nitrogen-fixing crops. The Commission has proposed allowing a mixture of seeds for nitrogen-fixing crops.

One of the measures the Commission has proposed under the landscape features and strips EFA is the merging of certain strips (buffer strips and field margins) and streamlining associated conditions.

It has also proposed the merging of certain landscape features (for example, trees in line, wooded strips and hedges).

Bascou outlined some of the facts around Greening in the EU:

Most of the agricultural area in the EU (72 %) is covered by Greening, i.e. subject to at least one Greening obligation (EFA, crop diversification or maintenance of permanent grassland).

At EU level, 75 % of the total arable land is subject to the crop diversification requirement and almost 70% of the total arable land in the EU is subject to EFA.

Permanent grasslands represent 29% of the total agricultural area (in some countries the percentage is as high as 90%), out of which almost one fifth is environmentally sensitive grassland subject to strict protection and management rules.

What happens next?

A formal Commission decision-making process of the new delegated act will be launched in view of its adoption in the first quarter of 2017.

Entry into force of the measures, following European Parliament and European Council scrutiny, is scheduled for mid-2017, he said.

“A flexibility is offered to Member States to apply the Greening modifications only from 2018 with an option for an earlier entry into force (2017) for those Member States which wish to do so.

“An explanatory note on how to implement and check the ban on using pesticides on productive EFAs will be provided to Member States,” he said.

Why was Greening reviewed?

In 2014, the Commission decided that it was going to carry out analysis of the ecological focus areas (EFAs) in Greening after year one of its implementation, Bascou said.

“This review is part of CAP simplification agenda as undertaken by Commissioner Hogan and Commission REFIT exercise.

“The review aims to provide a fine-tuning of current rules, especially for EFAs, to make them easier to understand and implement both by farmers and administrations.”

Bascou said that it’s too early to say at the moment what the environmental impact has been of the current Greening measures.

“The implementation of this was in 2015 and the impact on water and soil quality by diversity is often only measurable after a number of years. So we’re going to have to wait a number of years to get better data.”