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Commission Reinforces Concerns On Greening

Alyn Smith MEP, Scottish full member of the European Parliament's Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, has reacted with unease to the publication by the European Commission of new guidance on the proposed greening measures "crop diversification" and "ecological focus area" (EFA).

The reform proposals, which have been met with anxieties by large sections of the Scottish farming community, will require all farmers with more than 3 hectares of arable land to sow at least three crops (with the main crop covering no more than 70% of the arable land), and mandates an "ecological focus area" on each farm, covering at least 7% of eligible hectares.

The new information lays out how the Commission intends to use their delegated powers to create detailed rules for the programmes.  For crop diversification, arable fallow and temporary grassland will be considered as a crop, due to their environmental benefits, but winter and spring varieties of a crop will not, "as botanically they are the same crop" - a decision likely to have a significant impact on arable farming in Scotland.  Crops will not be distinguished according to their biological lifecycle or destination, and the measure would be annual.

Furthermore, the Commission has chosen to interpret the EFA in a narrow and inflexible manner.  The 7% will only be allowed to come out of a farm's eligible hectares, and cannot include any permanent grassland it may have, despite the environmental benefits such non-included areas may provide.  In addition, none of the suggested feature categories (land left fallow, terraces, landscape features like hedges, ponds, ditches and stone walls, and buffer strips), are in any way integrated with the production of food ("no production will be allowed on buffer strips") - lending credence to the claim that EFA is just a warmed over set aside.  

Alyn said:

"While I have sympathy with the concept and goals of greening, and believe that Scotland's system of extensive livestock grazing is a model of how European agriculture and food production can also help protect the environment and cut carbon emissions, I fear that the Commission is shooting itself in the foot over already unpopular proposals by defining them in the strictest way possible.

"I don't see why, for example, rough land on the edge of farms which does not qualify for entitlement but which can be made use of ecologically should not qualify for the 7%, but the Commission is against it.  I do not see why permanent grassland should not qualify, but it will not.  I do not see why sustainable food production systems which provide environmental benefits should not be included in the 7%, to show that food security and ecological protection are not mutually exclusive, but this is not how the Commission is thinking.  

"I think this underlines the danger of allowing such decisions to be made under delegated acts.  Delegated acts determine the detail of a legislative act, and will be critical for influencing whether farmers will qualify for greening or not, yet are decided under a procedure which allows no say to the democratically elected people's representatives in the Parliament.

"I will be amending the proposal to ensure that the details of greening are decided either by a full legislative procedure, or by national and regional authorities who can apply the local flexibility needed.  The Commission has shown that it doesn't have the mindset needed to make a success of this."