The regulatory and environmental context of our agriculture

The regulatory and environmental context of our agriculture

What is currently being done in Europe for more sustainable agriculture?

The EU member states currently define similar strategies so that all agricultural land, especially land that is no longer used and uncultivated for production purposes, is kept in good agricultural and environmental conditions in accordance with art. 5 of EC Reg. 1782/03 which establishes common rules relating to direct support schemes within the Common Agricultural Policy and establishes certain support schemes for farmers and which modifies other previous regulations.

All farmers who benefit from aid thanks to all payment schemes or single support for the area or for direct production or livestock activities based on the EC Reg. Cross-compliance obligations sanctioned and confirmed by Reg. CE796 / 04, under penalty of payment of penalties or reductions of the aids themselves.

All farms receiving the single area payment (non-cultivated) or direct to production are subject to cross-compliance checks.

Furthermore, each region, on the basis of the specific territorial characteristics represented in it, prepares its own Rural Development Plan (PSR) which is approved in the community. It is a tool through which farmers operating in the rural world can access funding to carry out projects and interventions of structural development and agro-environmental management of the company.

But what are Cross-compliance and Rural Development Plans?

Cross-compliance makes direct payments to farmers subject to compliance by farmers with a whole range of environmental and other requirements, at national and European level. To benefit from the single payment scheme and / or other direct payments to production, farmers are not obliged to produce but to comply with the rules of cross compliance in two ways.

  1. With the application of "Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions": all farmers who apply for direct payments, regardless of whether their land is used for production purposes or not, must comply with the rules that will be established by the Member States. This new requirement is a consequence of the introduction of the single payment scheme and is aimed at avoiding the abandonment of agricultural land (and the related consequences for the environment);
  2. With the application of "Mandatory Management Criteria": farmers must comply with other cross-compliance standards, established in accordance with 19 EU directives and regulations relating to environmental protection, public health, plant and animal health. Failure by farmers to comply with these criteria can lead to deductions or even the total elimination of direct payments. Therefore these activities should not be considered as fulfilments to be carried out in response to regulatory requirements, but could represent a real development opportunity for companies through the qualitative improvement of production, their eco-sustainability and respect for the landscape which constitutes a significant added value.

The so-called conditional support or cross compliance has therefore been created, which makes the granting of direct payments subject to compliance with particular regulatory provisions.

On the front of rural development measures, on the other hand, it was always considered in the European community that it was necessary to provide financial support to farmers who participate in a particular group of interventions, only on condition that they comply with the minimum requirements or that they undertake to produce additional efforts such as for example, innovative projects never developed before (agritourism, accommodation, catering, direct sales, sports-recreational and educational activities, etc.)

Currently, the overall budget of the common agricultural policy is about 40 billion euros or about 38% of the total budget and it is almost entirely covered by direct support to farmers (about 72%) but it will go down with the new CAP reform 2014-2020.

The RDP or Rural Development Plan It is a programming document drawn up by the Regions in the European reference framework of Agenda 2000 which operates on the regional territory; it is therefore the main programming and financing tool for interventions in the agricultural, forestry and rural development sectors managed directly by the regions in agreement with the European community.

The strategic priorities identified in the National Strategic Plan (Psn) and in the Community Strategic Orientations (Osc) are adapted to the regional realities with the RDP in order to pursue the development and competitiveness objectives of rural areas. The main regulatory framework of the RDP is now the EC Regulation 1698/2005 which governs the support for rural development by the EAFRD (European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development).

The structure of the Psr

The RDP is divided into 4 intervention axes for each of which are indicated the objectives to which packages of measures specified in detail refer.

In this way an integrated planning policy is defined to guarantee a balance in the distribution of resources and the integration between objectives and measures.

The measures are adapted to the current needs of the rural world such as support for the development of young businesses, the modernization of investments, access to credit, the inclusion of the concept of the environment in one's business, the protection of the territory, landscape and services.

The axes of intervention are

Axis I

The objective of axis I is to improve the competitiveness of the agricultural and forestry sector through 3 packages "Human potential"(Development of potential through professional training and consultancy and assistance services in the management of agricultural enterprises),"Physical capital"(Restructuring and modernization of farms, innovation and cooperation) and"Quality"(Improvement of the quality of production and agricultural products through compliance with the rules and participation in quality systems).

Axis II

It is dedicated to improving the environment and rural space through the sustainable use of agricultural land (favored by compensatory allowances for disadvantaged mountain areas, agri-environmental payments and non-productive investments) and the sustainable use of forest areas (afforestation of agricultural and non-agricultural land , forestry-environmental payments, preventive interventions and restoration of forest potential)

Axis III

The interventions are dedicated to diversification towards non-agricultural activities, encouraging tourism, the creation of businesses and the development, renewal and requalification of the rural heritage. Furthermore, professional training programs, promotion and implementation of public-private partnerships are planned.

Axis IV

With Axis IV, local strategies, cooperation and management of the Gal (Local Action Groups) are developed.

The National Strategic Plan (PSN) collects and elaborates all the above-mentioned community priorities, defining a general strategic framework that also takes into account the choices adopted by the Regions and Autonomous Provinces which, as is well known, are exclusively competent in the field of agriculture.

The NSP identifies this national strategy in three general objectives:

  1. improve the competitiveness of the agricultural and forestry sector;
  2. enhancing the environment and the countryside through land management;
  3. improve the quality of life in rural areas and promote the diversification of economic activities

The national programming also identifies priority objectives for each of the 4 strategic Axes, also providing indications on the importance (including financial) to be attributed to each objective in line with the results of the analyzes developed on a national scale.

Rural Development Programs represent the main tool to support the competitiveness of businesses, the protection of the environment and the economic diversification of rural areas.

An important fundamental factor is represented by the environmental context, of which agriculture is an integral part, since the scenarios of climate change and the recent growth in the frequency of occurrence of extreme events increase the exposure to risk of companies that already, due to their mission and conformation, present greater vulnerability to climate risk than others.

So more exactly

Conditionality makes direct payments to farmers' productive activities subject to compliance by the latter with a whole series of requirements and conditions compatible with the environment and PSR instead, it stimulates farmers with subsidized loans to make innovative and profitable investments in disadvantaged and mountain areas.

We are increasingly moving in the direction of a self-certification of conditionality by checking the state of maintenance of the land regardless of what is produced and by verifying the environmental, agronomic and landscape aspects.

Currently, Cross-compliance is compulsorily linked to the system of subsidies provided with the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) as structured by Reg. (EC) n.73 / 2009 and as implemented in Italy by Ministerial Decree 30125 of 22 December 2009 is based on the division of obligations into two large sets: the Mandatory Management Criteria (CGO), consisting of the transposition into national legislation of the Community directives and regulations, e Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAEC), whose objectives are described in the regulation, but whose actual adoption is detailed in the national Ministerial Decree and in the regional transposition resolutions. The SMRs are divided into "acts" which are in turn grouped into blocks, dedicated to the environment, public health and animal health and animal identification and registration; plant health, disease reporting and animal welfare. The GAEC are divided into standards which are also grouped by objectives, which currently are the protection of the soil from erosion, the maintenance of soil organic matter, the maintenance of the soil structure, ensuring a minimum level of habitat maintenance and avoiding deterioration. , and finally the protection and better management of water resources.

The farmers benefiting from ONE OR MORE of the following SUPPORT SCHEMES are therefore concerned with compliance with cross compliance:

  1. Single support decoupled from other aid relating to production or to the surface or to animal husbandry
  2. Direct support to the surface (durum wheat, rice, arable land, nuts, quality crops and productions (pursuant to art. 69, legumes, etc.);
  3. Direct support for production (seeds, olive oil, tobacco, etc.);
  4. Direct support in the animal husbandry sector.

The constraints on the aforementioned conditionality refer to the acts and standards included in the following conditionality fields:

  1. Environment;
  2. Public health, plant and animal health;
  3. Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions.

The conditionality commitments must be respected on any farm area including that released from aid. In the event of the sale of the company, the obligations relating to conditionality are transferred to the new owner.

All farms in possession of a company file, mandatory from the entry into force of the regulation and company identification are required to comply with the rules of conditionality, however referring to the individual and peculiar conditions and company characteristics; therefore it is not compulsory to comply with all the binding regulations and acts but only those that pertain to the specific business characteristics.

When applying for financial aid from the CAP (Common Agricultural Policy), the subscription to the commitment by the agricultural entrepreneur to comply with the conditionality standards provided for their farm must be declared at the same time.

In this way, however, with the application for aid, the direct participation of the entrepreneur in the agri-environmental management of his company becomes at least necessary and indispensable both from the point of view of the environmental constraints to which he is subjected both from the technical and managerial aspects of land use connected to productivity and marketability of its products.

Reduction of soil erosion, maintenance of soil fertility, protection of plant and animal biodiversity are the first positive results obtained by Italian agriculture in the new environmental challenge outlined by the Common Agricultural Policy which allocates an important share of PAC funding to these objectives. The key word of this new strategy is so-called "conditionality".

Ultimately, it is the set of rules that farmers must respect in order to guarantee high standards of environmental and territorial protection, food safety and public health, animal welfare. The income of farmers is about half of the average of the other productive sectors and of this two thirds on average is made up of the payments made under the CAP to ensure the provision of the public benefits mentioned above. Payments under the first pillar are particularly important, as they represent on average almost half of the income of farmers in the EU. Financial solidarity with agriculture is necessary to ensure socio-economic cohesion and integration across the EU27 and also a greater balance between rural areas and urban areas.

Dr. Antonella Di Matteo

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