Brussels Daily
28 Jun 2016


Brussels Daily


‘Greening’, a major innovation brought in under the 2013 CAP reform, makes the direct payments system more environment-friendly. Farmers who use farmland more sustainably and care for natural resources as part of their everyday work benefit financially.

Why do we need greening?

Greening supports action to adopt and maintain farming practices that help meet environment and climate goals. Market prices do not reflect the effort involved in providing these public goods.

For details read the Explanatory Memorandum of document COM(2011) 625 final.


How does greening work?

Green direct payments account for 30% of EU countries’ direct payment budgets. Farmers receiving an area-based payment have to make use of various straightforward, non-contractual practices that benefit the environment and the climate. These require action each year. They include:

  • diversifying crops
  • maintaining permanent grassland
  • dedicating 5% of arable land to ‘ecologically beneficial elements’ (‘ecological focus areas’).

Under the new rules, farmers receiving payments help conserve the environment and contribute to addressing greenhouse emissions by:

  • making soil & ecosystems more resilient by growing a greater variety of crops
  • conserving soil carbon & grassland habitats associated with permanent grassland
  • protecting water & habitats by establishing ecological focus areas.


What do greening obligations entail in practice?

Crop diversification

This requirement applies to farmers with over 10 ha of arable land.

  • Up to 30 ha: farmers have to grow at least 2 crops and the main crop cannot cover more than 75% of the land.
  • Over 30 ha: farmers have to grow at least 3 crops, the main crop covering at most 75% of the land and the 2 main crops at most 95%.

Farmers who already meet the objectives of crop diversification – because a significant amount of their overall land is grassland or fallow – are exempt.

Permanent grassland

National governments must designate environmentally sensitive permanent grasslands in Natura 2000 areas. They may also designate environmentally sensitive permanent grasslands outside such areas. Environmentally valuable grasslands cannot be ploughed or converted.

National or regional governments must also maintain the ratio of permanent grassland to the total agricultural area. This must not fall by more than 5% compared to the reference year.

If the ratio is falling, or has already passed the 5% threshold, EU countries are obliged to take action. For instance, farmers who have previously converted permanent grassland to other uses must reverse the conversion, and bans on further conversions are issued.


Ecological focus areas

Farmers with arable areas exceeding 15 ha must ensure that at least 5% of such areas is an ‘ecological focus area’ dedicated to ecologically beneficial elements. Ecological focus areas cover a broad range of features, including ones that affect biodiversity:

  • directly, such as:
    • fallow land
    • field margins
    • hedges & trees
    • buffer strips
  • indirectly, by cutting use of inputs or better soil protection (e.g. in areas covered by catch crops (fast-growing crops grown between plantings of main crops) or nitrogen-fixing crops).

It is up to national governments to draw up, based on the common list, a list of ecological focus areas, based on national priorities and farming systems, from which their farmers can choose.

There are some exemptions, notably for farmers with a large proportion of grassland (environmentally beneficial).


Review of greening after one year



EU governments may allow farmers to meet one or more greening requirements through equivalent /alternative practices, as defined in the basic regulation. Equivalent practices must be based on agri-environment schemes under EU countries’ rural development programmes or national/regional certification schemes.

National governments must make sure that equivalent measures do not benefit from both direct payments for mandatory greening and rural development funds.

On what EU regulations is greening based?


Administration, management and control requirements are laid down in:


Greening, cross-compliance & rural development measures

Direct payments’ greening component supplements cross-compliance rules. These, which are mandatory for all farmers receiving CAP support, require them to comply, among others, with relevant EU environmental legislation.

A further environmental tool is rural development measures, which finance more demanding activities relating to farming, the environment and the reduction of greenhouse emissions (‘agri-environment-climate measures’).

These 3 complementary instruments are designed to improve sustainability.

With direct payments for mandatory greening, rural development funds have to cover only the remaining activities. It is up to EU governments to make sure that there is no duplication of funding, among others, to:

  • agri-environment-climate measures
  • organic farming
  • Natura 2000 & Water Framework Directive payments.


Is anyone not affected by greening?

Small Farmers’ Scheme participants are exempt from greening rules, for administrative and proportionality reasons. The same applies to organic farmers who automatically receive their greening payment for their holding, as they are considered to provide environmental benefits. There are also exemptions from particular requirements, depending on individual farmers’ situations (see above).


What happens if I fail to comply with greening rules?

Farmers who break greening rules will be paid less. Such reductions reflect the number of hectares identified as non-compliant, taking into account the specific nature of the requirement concerned.

As of 2017, reductions can be accompanied by administrative penalties. In line with the proportionality principle, the size of such penalties depends on:

  • the severity & scope of non-compliance
  • whether it has a lasting impact
  • whether it recurs.


What are EU governments obliged to tell the Commission about their greening choices?

Under Regulation (EU) No 1307/2013 and its delegated and implementing acts, EU governments must notify the Commission of a number of greening-related policy choices, summarised in an information note pdf - 2 MB [2 MB] .


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