The European Commission has published a list of potential agricultural practices that eco-schemes could support in the future Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Part of the CAP reform currently under negotiation between the European Parliament and the EU Council, eco-schemes are a new instrument designed to reward farmers who choose to go further in terms of environmental care and climate action, according to commission representatives.

This list aims to contribute to the debate around the CAP reform and its role in reaching the Green Deal targets, the commission says. These include ambitious targets set down under the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies.

Agricultural practices that could be supported by eco-schemes have to meet the following conditions:
  • They should cover activities related to climate, environment, animal welfare and antimicrobial resistance;
  • They shall be defined on the basis of the needs and priorities identified at national/regional levels;
  • Their level of ambition has to go beyond the requirements and obligations established under the baseline (including conditionality);
  • They shall contribute to reaching the EU Green Deal targets.

The list also enhances transparency of the process for establishing the Strategic CAP Plans, and provides farmers, administrations, scientists and stakeholders a basis for further discussion on making the best use of this new instrument, according to EU officials.

In a statement, the commission explained: “The future CAP will play a crucial role in managing the transition towards a sustainable food system and in supporting European farmers throughout.

“Eco-schemes will contribute significantly to this transition and to the Green Deal targets. The commission published the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies in May 2020.”

The EU lists four key CAP specific objectives:
  1. To contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation as well as sustainable energy;
  2. To foster sustainable development and efficient management of natural resources such as water, soil and air;
  3. To contribute to the protection of biodiversity, enhance ecosystem services and preserve habitats and landscapes; and
  4. To improve animal welfare and address antimicrobial resistance.

“The commission presented its proposals for the CAP reform in 2018, introducing a more flexible, performance and results-based approach that takes into account local conditions and needs, while increasing EU level ambitions in terms of sustainability.

“The European Parliament and Council agreed on their negotiating positions on the reform of the CAP on 23 and 21 October 2020, respectively, enabling the start of the trilogues on 10 November 2020.

“The commission is determined to play its full role in the CAP trilogue negotiations as an honest broker between the co-legislators and as a driving force for greater sustainability to deliver on the European Green Deal objectives,” the authority concluded.

Examples of agri practices

The European Commission offers examples of agriculture practices, broken into two categories: “practices established in EU policy instruments”; and “other practices”.

For the first category, practices established in EU policy instruments, the commission lists EU-defined “organic farm practices”. Measures under this include conversion to organic farming and maintenance of organic farming.

Also included under this category are “integrated pest management practices”, which include: buffer strips with management practices and without pesticide; mechanical weed control; increased use of resilient, pest-resistant crop varieties and species; and land lying fallow with species composition for biodiversity.

Moving onto the “other practices” category, this includes 10 practices, namely:
  • Agro-ecology;
  • Husbandry and animal welfare plans;
  • Agro-forestry;
  • High nature value (HNV) farming;
  • Carbon farming;
  • Precision farming;
  • Improve nutrient management;
  • Protecting water resources;
  • Other practices beneficial for soil; and
  • Other practices related to greenhouse gas emissions.

Relevant examples of practices under agro-ecology include: crop rotation with leguminous crops; mixed cropping; low-intensity grass-based livestock system; use of crop/plant species more resilient to climate change; mixed species / diverse sward of permanent grassland for biodiversity purposes; and winter soil cover and catch crops above conditionality.

A range of examples are offered under husbandry and animal welfare plans. Feeding plans and optimised feed strategies are an option, as are “friendly housing conditions” which offer increased space allowances per animal and improved bedding.

Other examples under this are practices that increase animal “robustness, fertility, longevity and adaptability”, and animal health prevention and control plans to reduce the risk of infection that require antimicrobials.

Of particular interest to Irish livestock farmers, examples also include: providing access to pastures and increasing grazing periods for grazing animals; and providing and managing regular access to open air areas.

Carbon farming includes listed examples such as: conservation agriculture; rewetting peatlands; establishment and maintenance of permanent grassland; and extensive use of permanent grassland.

Precision farming looks at examples like: nutrient management plans; precision crop farming to reduce inputs; and improving irrigation efficiency.

Improving nutrient management offers examples such as “implementation of nitrates-related measures that go beyond the conditionality obligations”; and measures to reduce and prevent pollution from excess nutrients such as soil sampling (if not already obligatory) and the creation of nutrient traps.