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European Commission Sticks to Plan for Environmental Measures

The European Commission will resist calls by France, the European Union’s largest agricultural producer, to scale back environmental clauses within the 27-nation bloc’s new farm policy, a spokesman said.

The commission doesn’t intend to dilute plans to allocate 30 percent of national agricultural budgets for environmental measures, leave 7 percent of farm land free of crops and force farmers to diversify crops they plant, said Roger Waite, a spokesman for the commission, in Berlin today, speaking for Dacian Ciolos, EU agriculture commissioner.

Setting aside 7 percent of land for environmental purposes is “too much” and in conflict with the need to produce more food, Bruno Le Maire, France’s agriculture minister, said this week in Dijon. He also said 30 percent of national farm budgets for environmental measures is excessive, and the crop-diversity plans are incompatible with crops such as corn.

Ciolos made the proposals in October to change EU farm policy. The EU spent 58.2 billion euros ($75.3 billion) on agriculture and rural development in 2010, or 47 percent of the total budget. France wants overall spending to be little changed when the Common Agricultural Policy is overhauled after 2013.

“We have to take into account the concern of taxpayers about biodiversity, climate change and other environmental issues, and use the CAP to emphasize the environmental public goods which farmers provide,” Waite said.

The commissioner is “absolutely” sticking to 30 percent of farm spending at a national level for environmental measures, Waite said.

Farm Land

Reserving farm land for so-called ecological focus areas will mean marginal land on most farms, such as hedge rows, field margins and tree rows to protect crops from wind erosion, become eligible for direct payments, Waite said.

“I underline that this is not set-aside,” Waite said. “The aim is to have a positive effect on biodiversity loss, climate change and environmental problems throughout the EU by making everybody do it.”

The commission’s crop-diversity proposals don’t amount to forced crop rotation, according to Waite. Under the plan, farmers must grow at least three crops and can’t plant more than 70 percent of a single crop in order to get subsidies.

“This is not crop rotation, this is crop diversity, and the main aim is to address the environmental problems caused by mono-culture,” Waite said.

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