European Agricultural Policy

Working Towards Circular Agriculture

Background and request for advice

The European Union’s common agricultural policy (CAP) is reviewed and revised every seven years. Last year the European Commission set out proposals for the next period that give the member states more freedom to use their funding allocations to pursue national objectives. Taking note of these proposals, the Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality asked the Council to advise on how to make best use of the CAP over the coming years to support the transition to circular agriculture – a form of agriculture that is future-proof, resilient and robust and that meets the requirements of environmental, climate, biodiversity, soil, water, animal welfare, landscape and public health policies.

‘flower-rich field margins enhance biodiversity’ - Photo: Lilian Pruissen
Photo: Lilian Pruissen – ‘flower-rich field margins enhance biodiversity’

Advice

The Council stresses the importance of conducting a flexible agricultural policy and making flexible use of EU agricultural funds over the coming period. The changes needed to establish circular agriculture cannot all be made at once, primarily because the farming practices involved are still developing in an ongoing process of research, experimentation and innovation. The basis for payments to farmers should be periodically reviewed and revised in line with the growing body of knowledge, new insights and increasingly specific objectives for circular agriculture. This will be possible if the EU agricultural funds are gradually decoupled from income support and increasingly linked to results obtained from climate and environmental measures. These results-based payments can be calculated using a points system based on performance indicators. Periodically raising the climate and environmental performance standards will induce farmers to gradually incorporate circular agriculture principles and practices into their farm management.

The transition to circular agriculture is not limited to farmers alone, but is a task for the whole agri-food supply chain; it is not only agriculture, but the whole food system that will have to change. Linking the eco-schemes via a points system to private-sector sustainability schemes will lead to the emergence of a revenue model for circular agriculture, both for farmers and for other businesses in the agri-food chain. This linkage will considerably reduce the administrative burden, not only for the public authorities but for the agricultural sector as well.

The Council also advises repairing the proposed reductions in the EU budget for sustainable rural development and keeping this budget at least at the current level, and where necessary raising it to fund additional investments in climate and environment. The Council argues that this budget is indispensable for supporting the transition to circular agriculture through knowledge exchange, experimentation and sharing practical experience in soil improvement, biodiversity conservation and climate mitigation and adaptation. In addition, money should remain available to reward farmers for public services in the form of agri-environmental and water management.

Publication

The Council presented its advisory letter ‘European Agricultural Policy: Working Towards Circular Agriculture’ to Carola Schouten, the Minister of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, on 22 May 2019. 

More information

The advisory letter, explanatory memorandum and accompanying infographics can be downloaded from this site.

If you would like further information or wish to comment on the advice, please contact Hannah Koutstaal, project leader, at Hannah.koutstaal@rli.nl or call +31 6 11797505.