Fresh, clean air is a basic necessity for human, plant, and animal health, and a valued feature of life in the EU.
The common agricultural policy supports farmers who protect air quality as part of a sustainable agricultural system.
Clean air and agriculture in the EU
Along with soil and water, clean air is an essential natural resource for agriculture. However, agriculture is a significant source of air pollution:
- agriculture accounts for around 93% of total ammonia emissions in the EU; linked with livestock farming and the use of synthetic nitrogen ammoniacal fertilisers (in particular urea), emissions from this pollutant can lead to the eutrophication of water and acidification of soils;
- methane, a by-product of enteric fermentation in livestock, is the precursor of ozone ground level formation, which can bring damage to crops;
- particulate matter such as PM10 comes from burning biomass residues and forest fires.
Through the common agricultural policy (CAP), the European Commission aims to keep agriculture in line with the EU’s clean air policies, including the goals of the Clean Air Programme for Europe and the commitments set out in National Air Pollution Control Programmes (NAPCP).
The CAP also ensures that agriculture can make a strong contribution to the zero pollution ambition of the European Green Deal, which sets out to achieve a toxic-free environment in the EU. Reducing air pollutants from agriculture is also an important part of a sustainable food system, as outlined in the farm to fork strategy.
Current CAP actions
The CAP promotes sustainable agricultural systems in the EU, enabling farmers to
- provide safe, healthy, and sustainably-produced food for society;
- earn a stable and fair income, taking into account the full range of public goods they provide;
- protect natural resources, enhance biodiversity, and contribute to the fight against climate change.
By ensuring compliance with EU rules and activating specific CAP measures, EU countries can reduce the emissions of air pollutants stemming from agriculture.
Under cross-compliance rules, all beneficiaries of the CAP have their payments linked to a set of statutory management requirements (SMRs) and good agricultural and environmental conditions (GAECs). The standard of most relevance to air quality is the restriction on burning residues in fields (GAEC 6).
Rural development (the so-called “second pillar” of the CAP) includes a specific focus area dedicated to reducing greenhouse gas and ammonia emissions from agriculture.
Through their rural development programmes, EU countries can apply measures to support farmers who go beyond national legal obligations to protect air quality. Investments and practices recommended to farmers as part of the NAPCP legislation have been integrated in 27 national and regional rural development programmes, covering a total of 15 EU countries.
A number of rural development measures can be applied to benefit air quality:
- agri-environment-climate measures (AECMs) support voluntary farming practices such as directly incorporating nitrogen inorganic fertilisers into the soil and injecting liquid manure or slurry directly into soil to avoid ammonia volatilisation;
- through investment measures, funding can be used to cover installations such as manure and slurry storage facilities that result in ammonia emission reduction; sealing stables and applying air washers to capture ammonia volatilisation; and biogas installations that help to reduce ammonia and methane volatilisation;
- measures to support knowledge transfer and information, advisory services, and cooperation can be used to support innovation and training to raise awareness of to emission problems and help farmers to develop practical solutions.
The new CAP: 2023-27
Due to start in 2023, the new CAP will include stronger support for reducing air pollution, in line with the goals of the European Green Deal.
CAP specific objective
Based on the Commission’s proposals, the new CAP will be built around nine specific objectives. The objectives focusing on the protection of natural resources and mitigating climate change are particularly relevant for air quality.
CAP strategic plans
In their CAP strategic plans, EU countries will have more flexibility to design interventions that tackle local and regional causes of air pollution, whilst also contributing to broader EU goals.
New green architecture
A new green architecture for the CAP will incorporate stronger rules and offer more opportunities for eco-friendly farming. For example, a significant portion of the CAP’s budget will be set aside for eco-schemes, which can support farmers who undertake voluntary actions to cut down on ammonia emissions. In January 2021, the Commission published an indicative list of eco-schemes, including several practices targeting improved air quality.
Through the common monitoring and evaluation framework (CMEF), the Commission collects a wide range of indicators to measure the progress of the CAP in reaching its policy objectives. The impact indicator on ammonia emissions from agriculture in the EU shows a decline of 23% since 1990 to 2015, but an increasing trend thereafter in some EU countries.
The Commission’s agri-food data portal includes a dashboard for climate change and air quality, displaying further relevant indicators.
The CMEF also provides a framework for evaluations and external studies. In July 2019, the Commission published an independent evaluation of the impact of the CAP on climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, which took into account air pollutants from agriculture.
Under the Commission’s proposals, the new CAP will include a reinforced performance monitoring and evaluation framework, which will facilitate greater accountability and the transition to a performance-based delivery model.
Knowledge, research, and innovation
The Commission supports research and innovation to develop new techniques and technologies that can contribute to a sustainable system of agriculture.
The farm advisory system (FAS) spreads knowledge of new methods and technology to help farmers reduce air pollution, while also providing advice on how to comply with CAP rules for protecting air quality.
Innovation in action
The agricultural European innovation partnership (EIP-AGRI) supports projects and operational groups that transform innovative ideas into practical solutions. In Italy, the operational group MitigActions investigated strategies to mitigate the emission of greenhouse gases and ammonia in animal farming systems, while in Austria, Ammosafe combined two different methods of manure processing to maximise nutrient recovery and lower emissions.
Cross compliance is governed by rules on the financing, management and monitoring of the common agricultural policy Regulation (EU) 1306/2013, Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) 809/2014, Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 640/2014.
EU support for rural development comes from the European agricultural fund for rural development (EAFRD) – Regulation (EU) 1305/2013