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Agri-environmental support

     

    Agri-environmental support system is facing some changes as the old period is coming to an end. In Finland, the new 2014-2020 period is currently being prepared in Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in various working groups. Järki-project is also involved with the preparation work.

    Current situation

     

    Agri-environmental payments are a important part of agriculture today. The goal of these payments is to encourage farmers to take measures that promote biodiversity and reduce the harmful impacts of nutrient runoff from farmland on inland waters and the sea. How effective these payments have been is however debatable.

    Parts of the support system have become very technical and have little to do with improving the state of the environment. For example, one of the measures is to commit to upkeep biodiversity and landscape. This does not require any actions from the farmer so long as farmland is being cultivated. This example does not however mean that all subsidies have been ineffective.

    The Finnish agri-environmental support system in a nutshell:

    Agri-environmental payments are partly funded by the European Union. In 2008 around 303 million Euros was paid, from that Special agreements entitling farmers to additional agri-environmental support were about 42 million Euros. European Union’s portion of the payments in 2007-2013 period is about 28%. Read more from Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

    About 90% of Finnish farmers have committed to the agri-environmental support scheme. This accounts for 95% of all farmland in Finland. On the EU about 23% of all farmland is included in a support scheme.

    - Agri-environmental support scheme was introduced in Finland in 1995 when Finland joined the European Union

    - All farmers committed to the scheme carry out basic measures. They then choose additional measures that are suitable for their farms. Special agreements for additional support are also possible.

    According to the MYTVAS report, the basic measures carried out by all farmers committed to the support scheme have not so far increased biodiversity. Additional measures have not been very successful either.

    Agri-environmental payments these days are a part of the farm income. Despite the criticism of the support scheme, it must be stated that it has made farmers adopt more environmentally friendly ways of farming. We cannot know what the situation would be now without the support scheme.

    In addition to this, the green house gas emissions from agriculture have been reduced by about 20 % from early 1990. This is at least party thanks to the support scheme (Read more in Finnish).

    Recently there has been discussion whether the agri-environmental supports should be directed more efficiently where they are needed the most. Research is being done to provide information for decision makers. Allocation of support has been applied in several countries. In Finland this is used for payments on “efficient reduction of nutrient loading” on certain phosphorus rich areas in Southern Finland.

    Every European Union member state has a different agri-environmental support system. Different systems and their details have been examined in a report by TEHO project (in Finnish). Baltic COMPASS project has also compared the implementability of agri-environmental targets around the Baltic See (read more in English). 


    Goals

     

    Agri-environmental support should be developed so that

    A) Measures are easy for farmers to implement

    B) Environmental goals are reached

    C) System is easy to monitor

    Controlling climate change has also been set as a goal for the planning of the new program period. In the best case scenario, it can be reached with the same measures that reduce nutrient run-off and promote biodiversity.


    To do

     

    The new programme period 2014-2020 of the agri-environmental support scheme is being prepared. What will it be like depends on the work done now.

    There are three tasks:

    1) The weaknesses and strengths of the current support scheme should be examined. This should be done together with experts including farmers, advisors and local officials.

    2) Support schemes of other countries should also be examined, focusing especially on those that have been successful.

    3) The new support scheme should be planned in cooperation with all the target groups.

    When planning a new support scheme the officials preparing it should listen to the local officials that have much experience on the administration of the payments. Especially officials that are also farmers have a good understanding of the situation and this knowledge should not be wasted.

    Sometimes it would require very small things to make things a little easier. Those working on the practical level should be listened to.

    There can be difficulties combining practical work and agri-environmental goals. At worst, what is good for the environment is in no way sensible from a farmer’s point of view. Resources and financial support should be allocated into measures that are attractive for farmers as well.

    Advisory services could play a larger role in the new scheme. This would mean less duplication of work, supervising and farm visits.