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Agriculture and rural development

CAP performance: 2014-20

A summary of CAP performance and impact across the EU.


tree covered mountains and green fields

Between 2014 and 2020, measures taken under the common agricultural policy (CAP) provided economic, environmental, social and political benefit across the EU. In particular, this included:

  • supporting a fair standard of living for farmers and addressing needs in rural areas (especially remote and low population density areas), strengthening regional and social cohesion as a result;
  • ensuring a stable, safe and healthy food supply;
  • providing clear food information to EU consumers;

Results in enhancing environmental protection and climate action by raising standards and encouraging change were mixed. The CAP must do more to support the sustainability of EU agriculture, in line with the European Green Deal and Farm to Fork strategy. In particular, it must contribute more to the environmental objectives of the EU, as well as to the higher climate ambitions outlined in the European Climate Law.

In 2021, the European Parliament, the Council of the EU and the European Commission agreed on a new design for the CAP that draws many lessons from the policy during the 2014-20 period. The new CAP will enable the agricultural sector to make a more significant contribution to achieving these ambitious goals.

7 MAY 2020
How the CAP 2023-27 will contribute to the European Green Deal

Viable food production

Farm income

  • Over 6 million beneficiaries received direct income support in the EU-28*, enabling farmers to cope better with agricultural price decreases.
  • Direct income support represents around 25% of EU factor income** (2014-18 average).
  • Direct payments and rural development support represent close to 50% of farmers’ income in mountain areas, and CAP funding helps to make farms viable in the most remote rural areas.
  • Between 2013 and 2019, the average EU factor income per worker increased by 15% in real terms. This was mainly due to major gains in labour productivity.
  • However, the gap between agricultural income and the average wage in the whole economy remains considerable.

*For the purposes of the report, which covers the period 2014-2020, the United Kingdom is considered a member of the EU (EU-28). The United Kingdom withdrew from the EU on 1 February 2020, entering a transition period until 31 December 2020, during which Union law, with a few exceptions, continued to be applicable to and in the United Kingdom 

**Agricultural factor income measures the remuneration of all factors of production (land, capital, labour), and represents all the value generated by a unit engaged in an agricultural production activity.

Distribution of CAP support

  • Little progress was made regarding the fair distribution of direct payments, with 20% of CAP beneficiaries receiving 80% of payments.
  • Nevertheless, the distribution of CAP support is very socially inclusive.
  • About half of beneficiaries of direct payments are very small farms, with less than 5 hectares, and the biggest beneficiaries of CAP support only have between 20 and 100 hectares.
  • The 2014-20 CAP resulted in a significant redistribution of direct payments to smaller farmers and to areas facing natural constraints. Between 2017 and 2019, the payments per hectare to farmers in the smallest category (those producing under EUR 8 000 of standard output) increased by 18% compared to the period between 2011 and 2013.
  • However, there is still room for improvement in targeting the support to those who need it most.

Competitiveness and productivity

  • The CAP makes a significant contribution to food security by increasing levels of productivity.
  • Total factor productivity of EU agriculture increased by 6% from 2013 to 2019 (EU-27).
  • EU-28 labour productivity improved by 24% from 2014 to 2020.
  • EU agri-food trade displays strong levels of resilience, with the EU-28 accounting for 18% of global agri-food exports in 2019.

Sustainable management of natural resources and climate action

Sustainable management of natural resources

  • The CAP helps to prevent land abandonment, slows down the specialisation of farming systems and maintains crop diversification and permanent grassland, thereby preserving biodiversity.
  • The CAP provides an extensive level of ‘baseline protection’ for the environment on more than 80% of the EU’s agricultural land.
  • CAP payments are conditional on respecting a basic set of rules stemming from environmental (and other) EU legislation and good agri-environmental practices.
  • More targeted voluntary commitments going beyond this ‘baseline protection’ cover 15% of the EU’s agricultural land (2019).
  • Agri-environment-climate commitments support practices that limit the loss of soil organic matter, foster soil biodiversity and reduce soil pollution
  • By 2019, 7.8% of agricultural land was under organic farming in the EU-28.
  • The CAP supported a significant increase in the area under organic farming.
  • In 2019, 66% of agricultural land under organic farming was granted CAP support.
  • Organic farming clearly produces benefits for biodiversity, soil and water, climate mitigation and animal welfare, while reducing the use of chemical pesticides and antimicrobials.

Climate change and greenhouse gas emissions

  • EU greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture are 20% lower than 1990 levels.
  • Since 2010, progress has slowed, but agricultural production has increased by 9%. This highlights a significant decrease in emissions per unit of output produced. This strengthens the resilience of the sector and food security.
  • This indicates that lessons can be learned from efficiency gains in agriculture, which can provide guidance for the significant improvements needed for the future.
  • Reducing total emissions in agriculture remains essential to achieve the EU’s climate objectives.
  • From 2014-20, the CAP did more to reduce emissions from managed agricultural soils than it did for livestock emissions.
  • The debate on reducing livestock emissions cannot be narrowed down to reducing livestock numbers.
  • Improvements in livestock management must go hand in hand with reduced meat consumption and more sustainable diets to effectively decrease livestock emissions, while decreasing the risk of carbon leakage effects (i.e. the risk of imports of meat from countries with higher emissions than the EU per unit of output).

Potential of the CAP not fully realised

  • The decline in biodiversity on farmland slowed down but did not halt. Water quality, soil erosion and ammonia emissions remain major issues. The use of fertiliser and pesticides in the EU is too high.
  • From 2014-20, the CAP provided a wide range of tools for sustainable management of natural resources and climate action, but EU Countries did not seize all the opportunities to improve the environmental sustainability of farming and to step up climate action.
  • The CAP could have been more effective if its resources were used more strategically, with more targeted measures and funding, and if beneficiaries had been more ambitious in implementing change.
  • There is scope to do more to spread knowledge and advise farmers on techniques and practices to improve climate performance.

Balanced territorial development

Generational renewal

  • Employment in EU agriculture reached 9.1 million full-time equivalents by the end of 2019.
  • The decline in the size of the labour force in EU agriculture has slowed to -1.4% per year in the period 2011-19 (from -3.8% per year in 2005-11).
  • The ageing farming population is one of the top challenges facing EU rural areas, as only 11% of EU farmers are under 40 years of age (2016).
  • The CAP has facilitated generational renewal by supporting the economic sustainability of jobs and young farmers.
  • Lack of profitability/limited profitability of farms remains a problem despite support from the CAP. The CAP is insufficient on its own to remove the main entry barriers to farming, which are: 1) limited access to land and capital; 2) low attractiveness of working and living conditions in rural areas.

CAP spill-over effects on rural areas

  • The agri-food sector provides 40 million jobs in rural areas throughout the EU.
  • The CAP has significant spill-over effects on the wider rural economy, particularly because it boosts economic growth and employment.
  • CAP support can help slow down the rate of depopulation and land abandonment in the EU.
  • The CAP helps to reduce poverty in rural areas significantly.

Knowledge transfer and innovation

  • The share of farmers with basic training increased from 12% in 2010 to 23% in 2016, but remains too low to address the challenges linked to food security, environmental care and climate action.
  • Despite the delayed and weak implementation, the CAP support for knowledge exchange, advice and innovation contributed to building knowledge on cross-compliance and environmental sustainability in the period of 2014-20.
  • The same groups of farmers tend to participate in training, which means that it is difficult to reach out to the wider community, and important to increase peer-to-peer learning.
  • The European innovation partnership for agricultural productivity and sustainability (EIP-AGRI), with more than 2 000 completed local interactive projects, continues to have a positive impact on spreading innovation on fields and farms.

Legal basis

As outlined by Article 110(5) of Regulation (EU) No 1306/2013, the Commission prepares and presents a report on the implementation of the CMEF, including an assessment of the performance of the CAP, to the European Parliament and the Council of the EU.


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