Agriculture and the environment
Agriculture has both local and wide-ranging impacts on the state of the environment and functioning of ecosystems. The impacts are both positive and negative. Positive impacts can be seen as semi-open habitats with diverse and varied composition of species and habitat types and as open agricultural landscapes, cultural environments, and pleasant residential and working environments. Negative impacts on ecosystems can be seen as increased eutrophication, acidification and turbidity of water bodies, and loss of habitats and diversity of species. The state of the environment also depends on the types of land use, agricultural production sectors and practices, grazing, forest management and cultivation methods, and quality of arable lands.
Good environmental practices are in a key position in the Common Agricultural Policy of the EU. The aim is to ensure that environmental protection, nature conservation and food production can coexists without unnecessary confrontation. The reform that entered into force in the beginning of 2023 will make the Common Agricultural Policy fairer, greener and more performance based. The aim is to guarantee a sustainable future for European farmers and offer adequate flexibilities to the Member States to adapt the measures to local circumstances.
The Common Agricultural Policy now includes ‘Green Architecture’. It is an ambitious package of environmental and climate actions with selected measures that have science-based impacts and are easy to implement. Green Architecture is composed of compulsory requirements, i.e. conditionality, and voluntary measures where farmers receive a payment for their implementation.
Compliance with conditionality is a precondition for all support payments funded in full or partly by the EU. It contains numerous conditions that aim for environmental protection and sustainable agricultural production that oblige the beneficiaries with no compensation for the costs incurred.
Voluntary measures comprise the eco-schemes funded directly by the EU and, under rural development, the EU co-funded environment and organic production payments, non-productive and productive investments and multi-purpose measures such as advice and training, information and cooperation projects. Eco-schemes are measures that promote plant cover in winter, green manuring, nature management grasslands and biodiversity plants. Environment payments are paid under environmental commitments or environmental contracts. Through measures in environmental commitments farmers receive compensation for costs and income losses arising from environmental actions targeted to arable farming, such as cultivation of catch crops or soil improving and remediation crops, utilisation of solid and liquid organic manures in fertilisation, management of perennial grass vegetation on buffer zones and peat fields, alternative plant protection for horticultural plants, feeding of geese, cranes and swans on fields and management of controlled subsurface drainage. Environmental contracts may concern e.g. management of wetlands or biodiversity in agricultural environments, rearing of indigenous breeds and preservation of genetic resources. Arable lands cultivated in accordance with the organic production practices and organic livestock farms are eligible for the payments for organic production.
Besides the above measures, the Common Agricultural Policy also supports the management of agricultural environments through measures in the animal welfare payment scheme that promote grazing and through productive and non-productive investments for the benefit of the environment. Non-productive investments can be used to establish wetlands and convert peat fields into mire-like areas. Productive environmental investments can be used for more efficient recycling of manure and for promoting biogas and other renewable energy production, precision farming techniques and management of soil water economy.
The provision of farm-specific advice on environmental matters is also important for adopting environmentally-friendly cultivation practices. Through this, the farmers learn to identify the environmental matters relevant for their farms and ways to influence these and to act in a more environmentally-friendly manner.
Promoting the state of the environment is also present in the development of farm and business activities where funding is provided for the development of products and services, business innovations and promotion of job opportunities in a way that benefits the environment.
In addition, investments of general interest can be used to promote communal actions that improve the state of the environment, renewable energy projects, production of recreational services, creation of nature routes and trails, improvement of residential environments, or landscape management and restoration of waters. The LEADER methodology supports projects that promote the environment with a local perspective, while the measure concerning cooperation helps put research results into practice in cooperation between different stakeholders. Through training and information the environmental knowledge and competence can be disseminated more widely.