EU accepts waiver of ground rule after protests


On Tuesday, the European Commission officially extended the release of a much-contested rule to leave a portion of agricultural land fallow, after thousands of farmers in the bloc protested over the contested provision.

The rule will remain partially suspended this year. This means that instead of keeping 4% of arable land unproductive, farmers will henceforth be allowed to use it for “nitrogen-fixing crops” such as the cultivation of lentils or peas, or “catch crops” that are grown between regular harvests.

This while farmers are still eligible for subsidies from the European Union (EU).

The commission initially proposed that 7% of the land be used for nitrogen-fixing crops, but this figure was later revised to 4%.

Then last month, following calls from several EU members (including France), the commission agreed to grant a new, partial, exemption.

According to the commission, the amended rule will “put fewer restrictions on how farmers can use the arable land and reduce the revenue losses while still ensuring certain environmental benefits”.

“There are some changes after negotiations with member states,” Olof Gill, spokesman for the commission, told reporters on Monday. “The logic was to offer further flexibility for our farmers.”

The fallow land rule was introduced as part of the bloc’s common agricultural policy to promote biodiversity.

This is one of several measures that the bloc has abandoned in an attempt to calm the minds of farmers, together with a plan to reduce the use of pesticides in agriculture.

The list of farmers’ complaints is long, but mostly boils down to the fact that they feel they can no longer farm sustainably. Red tape and rising input costs are partly to blame for this, with the expansion of EU regulations to meet climate targets also a problem.

However, the EU admitted that a combination of geopolitics and extreme weather meant that farmers were struggling to meet the fallow rule, which “in certain cases could have a significant short-term impact on their income”.