Far-reaching CAP reform deal agreed
The European Union has reached an agreement in principle for the major reform of European agricultural policy for the period 2014-2020. To date, agricultural policy has been based on quotas, market intervention measures, and widely-distributed income support. Greening and market orientation will now occupy a more central position.
Minister for Agriculture Sharon Dijksma, who together with her European counterparts was closely involved in the negotiations, is satisfied with the outcome: "Under the new policy, farmers will receive payments based on the greening measures introduced in their farms. This is a significant departure from the trend." The Netherlands ensured that more greening measures can be added to the list of measures that qualify for payment, and national greening measures have been stimulated as a result. In the period 2014 - 2020 the Netherlands received approximately 6 billion euros for agriculture from the European Union. Of this amount, 5.4 billion euros were for direct payments and 0.6 billion euros for rural development.
The European Union also agreed to abolish measures to limit production. Milk quotas will be eliminated in 2015, followed by sugar quotas in 2017. As a result, trade-distorting quota subsidies will soon disappear from agricultural policy. "The Netherlands is the largest exporter of agricultural products in Europe and a global player. By lifting these types of restrictions we will be able to respond more quickly to market developments and stimulate innovation and entrepreneurship," said Minister Dijksma. Partly as a result of the Netherlands’s request, during the negotiations it was also established that the dairy sector should be made accessible for producer organisations. This will allow the dairy industry to stimulate sustainable milk production.
Specific agreements were also made to help young farmers throughout the European Union develop their businesses. Due to the rapidly ageing population of farmers in the Netherlands, the government considers it important to provide young farmers with financial support. This is one issue that was pushed for by Minister Dijksma during negotiations. The agreement also provides for a step-by-step approach to introduce hectare payments that are equal for all farmers within one country. This marks a departure from the principle of payments based on historical production.
Major step towards more sustainable agriculture
In recent months the Netherlands has been a strong advocate of a more results-oriented and flexible interpretation of greening measures. Several Dutch proposals for greening measures were included in the negotiation agreement between the 27 EU ministers and the European Parliament and European Commission. Farmers may therefore choose either three standard greening measures (annual crop rotation, maintaining pasture, and managing valuable landscapes) or they may opt for greening through agricultural conservation and/or other alternative measures. Certified organic farms are also eligible for the greening premium. This is a big step towards greener, more innovative and more sustainable agriculture. "New initiatives for greening and improving the sustainability of agriculture are strongly stimulated and that is exactly what the Netherlands and Europe require. It is also important that we have agreed to introduce additional measures to protect sensitive grassland," said Dijksma.
Greening measures carried out by nature associations
The negotiation agreement also included the Dutch proposal for agricultural nature associations (farmers’ cooperatives) to jointly implement greening measures. These cooperatives will for example be able to commonly manage and maintain hedgerows and river banks in an area. After all, a joint approach often provides a higher quality of management.
Sustainability on the farm
European agricultural policy also stimulates investment in innovation and sustainability on farms. Many Dutch farmers are facing the challenge to improve the sustainability of their products. Besides well-known initiatives such as precision agriculture, this can also involve opportunities for innovative livestock systems or processing manure into new products.
Modernising market and price policy
Thanks to the efforts of the Netherlands, it will also be possible for producer organisations of farmers and horticulturalists to set rules not only for members, but also for their peers in the sector. This will for example lead to these organisations introducing additional rules for animal health, plant health and food safety. This is vital if the sector is hit by an animal or plant disease that must be tackled in the interests of the sector as a whole.