The EU’s new rules for CAP subsidies oblige ties 30% of a farmer’s subsidy payments to new environmental requirements.
But during negotiations, farmers in Europe watered down the policy so planting crops that improve soil may be counted as helping wildlife. Member states can tighten the EU rule if they want to, but England’s farmers persuaded the government this would make them uncompetitive. A spokesman for the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said:
We have included Nitrogen Fixing Crops in Ecological focused area EFA we want farmers to have as much flexibility as possible so they can focus on growing British food.
Greening of CAP in jeopardy
Stephen Trotter, of The Wildlife Trusts, is furious to allow grants to peas and beans: “Nitrogen-fixing crops improve the soil but don’t help wildlife at all,” he said. “This is bizarre. It gets more outrageous every minute I think about it. It seems that farmers just want public funds with no strings attached.”
Andrew Clark of the National Farmers Union (NFU) said: “Comparing nitrogen-fixing crops with permanent pasture, obviously the pasture will have greater biodiversity, but we believe a range of options should be available to farmers. Anyone with broad beans in their garden will see they are full of pollinators at the moment.
“Wildflower meadows tend to have quite a limited flowering season but some legumes are flowering from April to June, and others much later in summer. We think including this measure is very positive for the environment.”
This decision follows on the heels of a report last week in which a group of EU experts warned that the Commission had failed in its attempt to “green” the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).