Sweden seeks flexibility on EU ag reforms

Sept. 19, 2012 at 6:30 AM
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STOCKHOLM, Sweden, Sept. 19 (UPI) -- Sweden's rural affairs minister said this week he wants more flexibility under the proposed "greening" reforms of the EU's Common Agriculture Policy.

Minister Eskil Erlandsson said Monday, before a scheduled meeting with EU Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Dacian Ciolos, he would be seeking recognition from Brussels that farming conditions in northern Sweden are "unique" when compared to those elsewhere in Europe.

Sweden says many of the "greening" reforms proposed for the CAP "produce only small environmental benefits" while negatively affecting farmers in the forest districts of northern Sweden.

Farming there is carried out mainly on cultivated grasslands featuring generally poor growing conditions that limit the type of crops that can be rotated, which runs afoul of one of the new biodiversity proposals for the new CAP, which would cover 2014-20.

Under the European Union's draft, to receive funds from its Single Payment Scheme each farmer must cultivate at least three crops and no one crop can account for more than 70 percent of the area.

Such a requirement would actually result environmental degradation in northern Sweden, the country's agricultural board says, because crop rotation there can lead to increased nitrate runoff as cereal crops crowd out native grasses needed for livestock foraging.

Erlandsson said Brussels needs to keep mind that what's sound agricultural policy for the plains of Western Europe isn't necessarily what will work for farmers in the continent's northern reaches.

"Europe is large, and both the countryside and the conditions differ between north and south, and between east and west," he said. "We need regulations that can be adapted to the widely differing conditions for agriculture that exist within the EU."

That includes a maximum amount of flexibility that "takes account of the major differences that exist between EU member states."

The meeting between Erlandsson, Finland's agriculture minister and Ciolos was to include a trip to a farm in Tandfors, Sweden, near the northernmost tip of the Gulf of Bothnia, 625 miles north of Stockholm.

Negotiations on the CAP reforms are ongoing and not expected to produce an agreement before next year. Sweden says member countries are demanding a greater choice for farmers through an expanded menu of measures within the greening initiative.

They're pushing for a larger selection of more regionalized environmental efforts, which they contend are more likely to result in positive environmental impact.

But Ciolos said in May he's worried a "wide menu" of possible options "could result in patchy implementation," European Voice reported.

"I believe that those who want a menu could find a solution in what the commission is now proposing, equivalence of certain actions," which, he added, could include organic farming or participation in environment programs.

A Swedish parliamentary hearing on CAP reforms in March brought testimony from farmer's groups contending they would struggle with the "greening" requirements.

For instance, the reforms would separate out the European Union's environmental subsidies to farmers from its current basic income support, thus adding more paperwork.

"The commission's talk about 'greening' risks becoming an administrative nightmare," Palle Borgstrom, of the Swedish Farmers Federation, said. "It is better to have broad-based environmental supports that many can use instead of specialized payments are difficult to find and thus get to use."

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