ANN CAHILL: EU ministers haggle over €380bn agriculture fund

The battle over how to make agriculture sustainable and environmentally friendly stepped up a gear in Brussels as ministers haggled over how to distribute a proposed €380bn over six years.

Simon Coveney, the agriculture minister, wants to limit the cut in funds to big farmers to 15%, and to limit the increase in money for the smaller, less productive farmers to between 25% and 30% under the Common Agriculture Programme.

He was among a group of ministers representing nine countries arguing for the new proposals on greening the CAP to be made much more flexible to take into account the different climates and farming models around the EU.

The proposals are to make 30% of the direct payments to farmers subject to them fulfilling three main criteria that would encourage greater respect for the environment, climate, and nature.

The ministers are proposing a number of changes to the European Commission’s latest version that allows farmers to be defined as green if they take part in agri-environment schemes. They could choose from a menu of options on how to comply with greening requirements.

They want to raise the threshold for crop diversification from three to 10 hectares or more of land other than grassland and want the exemption to include ecological focus areas. The group also wants to change the 7% requirement for farm land to be reserved for ecological focus areas so that more areas may be included and aimed at a region rather than individual farms.

Mr Coveney said while a lot of Irish farmers will have little difficulty setting aside 7% of their agricultural land as an ecological area, others may not find it as easy. He believed it may be reduced to 5%.

On the permanent pasture criteria, since 90% of Irish farmland is in grass, they would be exempt from the rule, but he would like to see the 85% limit being reduced to 70% to encourage more diversity.

On crop diversification, Mr Coveney said he would favour moving the threshold to 15 hectares and reducing the number of crops from three to two.

He also wants to limit the losses for more productive farmers.

The Danish presidency aims to present a progress report on the reform of the CAP at the next agriculture ministers’ meeting on Jun 18.


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