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What encourages farmers to participate in EU agri-environment schemes?

Science for Environment Policy - Thematic Issue 57 - June 2017

Isolating specific reasons for involvement in agri-environment schemes (AES) is a key step in the formulation of schemes that are more appealing to Europe’s farming community. Through a comprehensive exploration of the literature on AES across the EU, this study contributes to a better understanding of what drives farmers’ participation in such initiatives, revealing important factors, such as previous experience with schemes and flexibility in management.

AES have been a component of EU policy since the 1980s, with their significance increasing following changes to the Common Agricultural Policy1 (CAP) in 2013. Between 2007 and 2013, over €22 billion was allocated to EU Member States to cover AES payments, which are distributed to participating farmers following their commitment to greener farming practices. The fact that such large amounts of public money are invested, means that there is a need to assess performance. This study2, which was co-financed by the EU3, reviews the existing literature on the factors that influence farmers to join AES, resulting in a series of recommendations for policymakers.

One of the central principles of AES is that they are voluntary, but this means that environmental policy objectives will only be achieved if the schemes are appealing to farmers. To assist with this, farmers are incentivised for their participation, but payment needs to be set at a level that encourages uptake whilst remaining cost-effective.

This study pinpoints the main influences on farmers’ participation in AES by undertaking meta-analysis of papers published in peer-reviewed journals between 2000 and 2013. The papers selected covered surveys performed in most EU Member States. Over 160 variables affecting uptake were identified, and grouped into five major categories: economic factors; farm structure; farmer characteristics; farmers’ attitudes towards AES; and social capital (i.e. the connections, shared values and understandings between individuals and groups).

Results indicate that farms less likely to join AES are those where there is a high dependence on agricultural activities for farm income, those where there is the presence of a successor on a farm (farmers are unwilling to agree to long-term contracts that may affect their successors) and farms with a high proportion of family labour.

On the other hand, previous involvement with AES or lower agricultural capacity were positively associated with AES uptake — perhaps because farmers, by being paid for additional work under an AES, can more significantly increase their income with AES payments and also use some areas that are not available for agricultural activities…

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SOURCE: EC – Science for Environment Policy