The CAP proposals are out – but what do they mean?


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The CAP proposals are out – but what do they mean?

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Last week (12 October), the European Commission’s proposals for CAP reform were finally released. Although long awaited, these proposals are really just the beginning of a long process of negotiation between all 27 EU Member States and the European Parliament. The end result will be a new CAP that will have a profound effect on farmers and the environment from 2014-2020 and beyond.

The RSPB has been deeply disappointed by the reform proposals, but they can still change and it vital that we all do what we can to ensure that the outcome is a policy that genuinely delivers for farmers, consumers and wildlife.  You can help by contacting your local MP and MEP to ask what they’re doing to ensure wildlife and environmentally-friendly farming gets a fair deal from the CAP.  Read on for more detail...

So what is being proposed?

The 2-Pillar CAP that we’re now all familiar with (with Pillar 1 providing direct payments and Pillar 2 funding Rural Development and agri-environment schemes) will remain but with some significant changes.

Pillar 1

Instead of the Single Payment Scheme, (also known as the Single Farm Payment), Pillar 1 could feature up to six different payment schemes:

  1. The ‘basic payment scheme’ (which effectively replaces the SPS);
  2. A ‘greening payment’ for farmers observing a set of agricultural practices designed to be beneficial for the climate and environment;
  3. A ‘young farmer’ scheme;
  4. A ‘small farmer’ scheme;
  5. A coupled support scheme and;
  6. A payment for farmers in areas under natural constraint.

If these schemes are agreed in the forthcoming debate, each Member State will have to offer the first 4 schemes and can choose whether to offer the last 2.  The Basic Payment would account for the majority of Pillar 1 funding .

Every farmer who entered the Basic Payment Scheme would also be required to enter the ‘Greening scheme’. This scheme would account for 30% of each Member State’s Pillar 1 budget and to get the payment, farmers and land managers would be required to:

  • Protect permanent pasture on their farms where applicable;
  • Assign 7% of their arable land as an Ecological Focus Area (details still to be determined).
  • For farms with more than 3 ha of arable, grow at least 3 different crops each year.

The young farmer scheme would provide ‘start-up’ support (for a maximum of 5 years) for new entrants to farming who are less than 40 years old.

The small farmer payment would replace all other payments for those entering the scheme. Recipients would receive a small payment (somewhere between the equivalent of €500-1000) and unlike farmers in all the other schemes would not have to respect cross compliance or the measures set out in the greening payment.

Coupled support would provide payments linked to production in areas where specific types of farming or sectors are facing difficulties and are important for economic, social or environmental reasons. The payment would not seek to increase production in such areas, rather to maintain it at current levels.

The payment for areas under natural constraint is effectively providing ‘Less Favoured Area’ support under Pillar 1 in addition to support already provided (and which will continue to be provided) under Pillar 2.

Pillar 2

Pillar 2 has not been so dramatically transformed. Member States will still have to develop Rural Development Programmes (at national or regional levels), they will still have to offer agri-environment schemes as part of these RDPs and ‘ring-fence’ 25% of Pillar 2 funding for environmental measures.

However, these Rural Development Programmes will be expected to deliver a much broader range of objectives than currently, grouped under 6 priorities:

  1. Fostering knowledge transfer in agriculture and forestry;
  2. Enhancing competitiveness of all types of agriculture and enhancing farm viability;
  3. Promoting food chain organisation and risk management in agriculture;
  4. Preserving and enhancing ecosystems dependent on agriculture and forestry;
  5. Promoting resource efficiency and the transition to a low carbon economy in the agriculture, food and forestry sectors;
  6. Realising the jobs potential and development of rural areas.

 So is all this good or bad?

In a nutshell, the RSPB has been deeply disappointed by the reform proposals. We have long called for reform that links the public money that funds the CAP with clear ‘public goods’ – things like wildlife, healthy soils and clean water which the market doesn’t properly reward. This would mean CAP money going to those farmers and land managers who are protecting and improving the environment alongside food production.

Not enough money for environmentally friendly farming

It is positive that the reform proposals require 25% of Pillar 2 money to be used for targeted environmental measures (like England’s Environmental Stewardship schemes for example). However, the CAP budget for 2014-2020 will be less than the current budget in real terms so this will mean smaller pot of money for Pillar 2 across Europe. This won’t be enough to meet the scale of environmental need or the level demand from farmers who want to join.

Another highly worrying proposal is also on the table – some Member States may be allowed to transfer up to 5% of their Pillar 2 budget into Pillar 1, further reducing the money available for farmers who wish to enter agri-environment schemes.

Positively, the proposals do provide the ability for Member States to shift (or modulate) up to 10% of Pillar 1 funds into Pillar 2 and this should be welcomed.  Although the subject of modulation is often contentious, it must be remembered that without modulation in the UK, we would not have been able to offer the kind of open-to-all agri-environment schemes we have.

No support for High Nature Value farming systems

Despite concerted effort from the RSPB and its BirdLife partners across Europe, the proposals still fail to provide targeted support for HNV systems. These systems, which are generally very extensively managed (and include some of the crofting systems in Scotland and upland farming systems across the UK), deliver outstanding environmental benefits, are socially extremely important and yet currently receive little to no financial support from the CAP.

Potentially damaging ‘simplification’

In a bid to make the CAP simpler and more socially acceptable, the proposals contain some very strange measures indeed. The small farmer scheme is a particularly worrying example as it would provide a payment to small farms with no strings attached and no clear policy objective in mind. The RSPB strongly believes that all farms, large and small, have a shared responsibility towards the environment and there should be no means for farms to effectively opt out.

Another proposal is to target Pillar 1 payments to ‘active’ farmers only. In a bizarre twist, this could actually result in genuine farmers being exclude from CAP direct payments because they have diversified so successfully they make too much of their income from non-farming activities! This proposal could also potentially catch very extensive farming systems which receive very low (but vitally important) CAP payments and where the farmer may have to work another job to make ends meet.

New ‘greening measures’

The new greening measures have caught many of the CAP headlines in recent months. The RSPB hopes that the proposed measures can be designed in such a way that they deliver real and meaningful environmental benefits on the ground, including helping to protect the natural resources needed for long term food production.

In particular, we are extremely hopeful that the proposed Ecological Focus Area requirement will include the right kinds of land management types and features (such as hedges, buffers and margins, areas out of production, ponds and very extensively managed farmland) and will reward farmers who have retained such features, as well as providing an incentive for more farmers to re-inject these features back into the landscape. The EFA requirement is not the same as the old set-aside scheme, which simply aimed to reduce food surpluses by demanding up to 10% of productive farmland be taken out of production. These new requirements could, if designed well, bring both biodiversity and agronomic benefit. However, as for many of the new CAP proposals, the devil will be in the detail.

So what happens next?

Now the reform proposals are out, the complex process of ‘co-decision’ starts. Co-decision is new to agricultural policy. In the past the European Commission proposed the policy and the Member States decided the outcome. Now the Commission proposes but the Member States have to share power with the European Parliament.

The proposals for reform will change during this process and it vital that we all do what we can to ensure that the outcome is a policy that genuinely delivers for environmentally friendly farming. This means ensuring that enough money is available for well-designed agri-environment schemes, that all farmers and land managers do their bit for positive land management and those farming systems which deliver the most for the environment but often get the least from CAP are properly recognised and rewarded.

You can help by contacting your local MP and MEP to ask what they’re doing to ensure wildlife and environmentally-friendly farming gets a fair deal from the CAP.

You can find out who your local MP and MEPs are here:

  • I wouldn't say pillar 1 is making food particularly cheap currently, it served the function post-war but we have moved on from this. In fact many would argue that removing or lowering that support could actually lower the price making farms more competitive.

    We aren’t asking to remove that support overnight but we are asking for a fairer proportion (from that pot) in agri-environment so farming across Europe can meet the challenges it faces.

    It is fair to ask for more (not all) money from pillar 1 to provide real public benefits. Fair to say the RSPB would set to lose financially if that were the case, but wildlife and society would gain and that is what is important here.

    I would also suggest that the c.97% of the general public probably do care where their tax money goes and how it is spent. Therefore the focus should be on ensuring that the CAP is reformed so as to deliver the best value for money, so a greater level of outcomes can be delivered from more efficient and effective use of Pillar 2 funds.

    Current system and proposals do not support traditional farming practices, high value nature farming systems, lower income farms and more extensive farming. As for Hill Farms its right to ask for those that are less productive but produce a range of environmental benefits get a bigger slice of the CAP through agri-environment.

    It's not simply about Corncrakes or people - it’s about both, as both are intrinsically linked.

    Food production suddenly gets very expensive when the ecosystems around them are broken. A country without Corncrakes or with far less Skylarks, a Europe without Little Bustards is an absolute disaster!

  • Conservationists never cease to amaze the approximate 97% of general public who are not in any conservation body.just like all minority's they seem to think they have a god given right that they know best and all grants should go in there favour.

    I was reminded of this when one ordinary member of the vast majority was quoted "If it is Corncrakes or my children then goodbye Corncrakes".The vast majority of general public are pro grants that have been in place to provide cheap food and most townspeople probably could not care less about wildlife or the RSPB would have  much larger membership and of course more funds.Conservationists tend to demand when in fact considering they are a very very small minority would probably look much better asking.

    Think farmers will not find it farmer friendly the RSPB asking for more for Pillar 2 by taking it from Pillar 1.It is really none of the RSPBs business to get Pillar 1 cut and if the RSPB want more Pillar 2 then ask for it in its own right.Many hill farmers with much smaller incomes than many RSPB employees rely on Pillar 1 which keeps the hill areas of the country as most people would like it and without these payments these areas would go back.

  • 70% of farmers did fill out the forms they just didn't necessarily choose the right options – the opposite when they were given good advice!  It should be said many did choose wisely, although far to few and there needs to be a lot more farmers doing the right options at the right scale than the current situation to turn around the loss of farm wildlife.

    The CAP is still spending 70-75% of its budget to direct payments and it seems that it will continue to do so after 2014. Direct payments have already been justified historically on both economic and social grounds. Whilst these two issues are now probably less palatable to the tax paying public they now appear to be justified on an environmental basis - yet many of the measures could equate to little more than 'green-wash' – I hope not and the fine details will be important here. Ecologically Focused Areas sounds promising but it could have been simpler to transfer more money from pillar one to pay for more agri-environment schemes as these can deliver real environmental and public benefits meaning Euros are spent in efficient ways and agri-environment schemes when targeted well are proven to work.

    This isn't about rich or poor, small or big, but it is about spending public money to achieve a common goal across Europe that will benefit us all - sustainable long-term environmental and biodiversity benefits which will ensure long-term food production - all of which are intrinsically linked and all of which are of the upmost importance.

  • The only thing I can find wrong with these proposals is the one big one that is actually the most important one and makes all the proposals irrelevant in my estimation reinforced on a 400 mile journey where every hedge seemed to have been trimmed.

    My thinking is that these proposals and grants are so time consuming and grants not that financially attractive that farmers will not spend the time form filling.

    For sure if these grants needed less paperwork then I feel sure more farmers would apply and more hedges would get cut less often.

    This is one request surely that the RSPB could put forward as a general rule farmers will do things if there is money in it so there just has to be something wrong in present system which means all these hedges get cut each year.

  • Sooty perhaps changing the policy to address the challenges that farmers and farming faces now and into the future would have been the correct choice, these proposals do not reflect that need.

    You are quite correct to point out that funding is tight in these austere times – even more reason to make any money that is being spent from the public purse to work harder and deliver real public benefits that farmers can supply, but these are not supported by markets and therefore justify continued and enhanced public investment.

    Indeed food production is important and there are many demonstrations of the need for functioning eco-systems as these directly support food production i.e. pollinating and predatory insects, birds that eat pest insects etc (aside from wildlife in our countryside being an absolute societal need as its grim without Skylarks!!)

    The UK National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA) presented a comprehensive account of how the natural world, including its biodiversity, provides us with services that are critical to our wellbeing and economic prosperity.

    Following the strong economic arguments for safeguarding and enhancing the natural environment presented in the UK National Ecosystem Assessment and the EU’s own recently adopted target to halt the loss of biodiversity by 2020 one would be forgiven for thinking this might just be a reform of the CAP that took those findings and targets into account. Not only saving nature but benefiting farming, farmers and society and therefore spending money in an efficient and progressive manner as opposed to the inefficient and wasteful manner that the CAP has long been criticised for.

  • Oh dear I think the only thing about the CAP that would satisfy the RSPB would probably be if all CAP money was paid directly to RSPB.Most of these proposals seem pretty good when basically the EU including UK is probably bankrupt.Small farms automatically are better for wildlife,Just look at places that are short of food and animals and birds are slaughtered and probably become almost extinct as when the crunch comes food takes preference over wildlife and with the population increasing dramatically food production has to be a priority.My point is that when the EU is so short of money this is probably a good deal and just one thing enters my mind,when was the last time the RSPB (which gets my support on almost everything) was ever satisfied with the share of CAP for wildlife and in fact they seem to be against almost everything that happens in the country.Sadly the time when we could have done much more for wildlife has passed because in comparison we were rich with all the revenue from North Sea Oil and perhaps the wildlife organisations should have asked for more of that massive income.