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European Farmers Allowed to Cultivate Fallow Land This Year

European farmers have been exempted from the fallow land rules.
The European Commission has adopted a regulation granting partial relief to European farmers from the conditional rules on fallow lands.

The matter in question stems from a proposal put forward by the European Commission a few weeks prior, as well as the results of subsequent discussions with member states held during commission meetings. The regulation has already come into force, retroactively effective from January 1st, and applicable for one year, until December 31st, 2024. This partial exemption fulfills requests from member states for greater flexibility, enabling farmers to better respond to the challenges they face.

Specifically, instead of leaving land fallow or using 4% of their arable land for other purposes, farmers can now cultivate nitrogen-fixing crops (such as lentils and peas) and/or cover crops on 4% of their tillable land without the use of pesticides. Cover crops are understood to be those plants grown between two main crops and can be utilized as fodder or green manure. The use of nitrogen-fixing and cover crops brings several environmental benefits in terms of soil health, including enhanced biological diversity in the soil and restricting nutrient leaching. It cannot be stressed enough that these crops must be cultivated without pesticides to maintain the environmental protection efforts of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

To obtain CAP funding, farmers must comply with nine beneficial directives from an environmental and climatic perspective. This principle of conditionality applies to nearly 90% of the EU’s agricultural area and plays a key role in enforcing sustainable farming practices. This essential set of standards is referred to as GAEC, meaning "Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions."

With the mentioned measures, EU farmers also comply with the so-called GAEC 8 requirements, which stipulate that a minimal part of the arable land cannot be cultivated. It must be left fallow or contain non-productive landscape elements such as hedges or trees. (Farms with less than ten hectares of arable land are exempt from this obligation.) However, farmers who decide to continue fulfilling the fallow land or "non-productive" requirement can, of course, do so.

The decision provides suitable relief and flexibility for farmers, balancing between the protection of biodiversity and soil quality. The regulation allows member states to modify their supporting eco-schemes for non-productive areas, considering the alternative baseline according to GAEC 8 conditions. An immediate update to the affected eco-programs requires a simple notification to the European Commission, as emphasized in Brussels. Member states wishing to apply the derogation at the national level have 15 days from the entry into force of the regulation to do so.
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