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Agriculture and rural development

Sustainable land use (greening)

Sustainable use of farmland and how this benefits farmers financially.

Aims of greening

Around half of the European Union's area is farmed land. Farmers act as managers of the countryside; they shape landscapes and through their work, farmers provide public goods beneficial to all. However, farmers also depend on natural resources, such as soil and water, for their living. Farming activities are affected by climatic events, the state of the environment, biodiversity and water quality.

The ‘green direct payment’ (or ‘greening’) supports farmers who adopt or maintain farming practices that contribute to EU environmental and climate goals. Through greening, the EU rewards farmers for preserving natural resources and providing public goods, which are benefits to the public that are not reflected in market prices.

EU countries have to allocate 30% of their income support to ‘greening’.

New CAP: 2023-27

In June 2021, following extensive negotiations between the European Parliament, the Council of the EU and the European Commission, agreement was reached on reform of the common agricultural policy (CAP). This agreement was formally adopted on 2 December 2021, and the new CAP will begin on 1 January 2023

Under the new CAP, changes will be made to the existing conditionality and greening systems that will reflect higher green ambitions and contribute to the targets of the European Green Deal. This includes the introduction of eco-schemes, which will provide stronger incentives for climate- and environment-friendly agricultural practices. Until 2023, current measures apply, in line with the provisions of the CAP transitional regulation.

Greening payments in practice

Farmers receive the green direct payment if they comply with three mandatory practices that benefit the environment (soil and biodiversity in particular).

  • Crop diversification: a greater variety of crops makes soil and ecosystems more resilient.
  • Maintaining permanent grassland: grassland supports carbon sequestration and protects biodiversity (habitats).
  • Dedicate 5% of arable land to areas beneficial for biodiversity: ecological focus areas (EFA), for example trees, hedges or land left fallow that improves biodiversity and habitats.

Crop diversification

Farms with more than 10 ha of arable land have to grow at least two crops, while at least three crops are required on farms with more than 30 ha. The main crop may not cover more than 75% of the land. There are exemptions to the rules, depending on the individual situation. For instance, farmers with a large proportion of grassland, which is in itself environmentally beneficial.

Maintenance of permanent grassland

The ratio of permanent grassland to agricultural land is set by EU countries at national or regional level (with a 5% margin of flexibility). Moreover, EU countries designate areas of environmentally sensitive permanent grassland. Farmers cannot plough or convert permanent grassland in these areas.

Ecological focus areas

Farmers with arable land exceeding 15 ha must ensure that at least 5% of their land is an EFA in order to safeguard and improve biodiversity on farms.

Report from the Commission on the implementation of the ecological focus area obligation under the green direct payment scheme
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Exemptions

The greening rules do not apply to farmers who opted for the small farmers scheme, for administrative and proportionality reasons.

Organic farmers automatically receive a greening payment for their farm, as they are considered to provide environmental benefits through the nature of their work.

Other exemptions may apply, depending on the individual situation of a farmer.

Alternatives to greening

EU countries may allow farmers to meet one or more greening requirements through equivalent practices. Equivalent practices must be based on agri-environment schemes under EU countries' rural development programmes or national/regional certification schemes.

Each EU country ensures that farmers using alternative practices do not benefit from income support from both mandatory greening and rural development funds.

Related information

Rural development

Penalties for non-compliance

Farmers who do not respect greening rules receive less money. Such reductions reflect the number of hectares identified as non-compliant, taking into account the nature of the greening requirement.

Since 2017, national governments can impose administrative penalties on top of the reduction in greening payments. Administrative penalties have to be proportionate, depending on the severity and scope of the non-compliance.

Rules

Greening is governed by the rules on direct payments under the CAP (EU Regulation 1307/2013, EU Delegated Regulation 639/2014, EU Implementing Regulation 641/2014)