The European Commission has proposed to allow EU farmers to avail of a derogation for 2024 from CAP rules obliging them to keep certain areas fallow.

The Commission's proposal, sent on Wednesday to member states who will vote on it in a committee meeting, provides a first concrete policy response to address farmers' income concerns.

It also follows requests outlined by several Member States in Agriculture Council meetings.

To receive the CAP support they are entitled to, farmers must respect an enhanced set of nine standards beneficial to the environment and climate.

This principle of conditionality applies to close to 90% of the utilised agricultural area in the EU and plays an important role in mainstreaming sustainable farming practices.

This set of basic standards is referred to as GAECs or good agricultural and environmental conditions.

Minimum share

The GAEC 8 standard requires, among other things, devoting a minimum share of arable land to non-productive areas or features. The latter typically refers to land lying fallow but also features hedges or trees. Farms with fewer than 10 hectares of arable land are typically exempted from this obligation.

The Commission has provided the possibility for all EU farmers to be exempt from this requirement and still be eligible for their CAP basic direct payment.

Instead of keeping the land fallow or unproductive on 4% of their arable land, EU farmers growing nitrogen fixing crops (such as lentils, peas, or favas) and/or catch crops on 7% of their arable land will be considered as meeting the requirement.

The measure will be voted in the coming days by member states gathered in committee meeting. After that, the Commission will proceed with formal adoption.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that Wednesday's measure offers additional flexibility to farmers at a time when they are dealing with multiple challenges.

'Right balance'

"We will continue to engage with our farmers to ensure the CAP strikes the right balance between responding to their needs while continuing to deliver public goods for our citizens," she added.

The regulation will apply retroactively from 1 January 2024. Member states who wish to apply the derogation at national level need to notify the Commission within 15 days so that farmers can be informed as soon as possible.

Commenting on the move, Janusz Wojciechowski, Commissioner for Agriculture, said: "In proposing this temporary derogation, the Commission demonstrates flexibility and solidarity with European farmers in the face of exceptional difficulties. By enabling the production of nitrogen fixing crops and catch crops, without the use of plant protection products, this derogation strikes a balance between the short-term necessity of supporting farmers and the long-term need to protect our climate, soil health, and biodiversity."