News | 23 May 2024

Soil health: a key agroecology metric for results-orientated payments

Results-based payments protecting soil performance are a recent proposal promoted by EU CAP Network stakeholders for the future of sustainable food and farming systems in Europe.

Hand of farmer checking soil health

Improving the implementation of CAP Strategic Plans (CSPs) is aided by sharing ideas, experiences and good practices from EU CAP Network stakeholders. These include the European Alliance for Regenerative Agriculture (EARA), which recently pooled its expertise in agroecological fields to produce a new 'farmer-centric' white paper on future possibilities for sustainable food and farming systems in the EU.

Science, data, and evidence are all core drivers within agroecological practices, and EARA's expert membership of pioneering farmers recognises this. The white paper's proposals promote results-oriented payments for farmers that protect soil performance in measurable ways. 

Soil health is considered a common and simple EU metric for results-based payments, as well as to help forecast the costs of funding the EU transition to more sustainable agriculture. Photosynthesis is also a core indicator of agroecology-based land use management. Published during an ongoing dialogue about the EU's transition towards sustainable agri-food support systems, these soil-centred and farmer-led opportunities build on Member States' well-established experience of results-based agri-environment and climate payments. The paper confirms that farmers appreciate how results-based models provide the freedom to manage land as they wish to achieve the results required for payments. EARA's members know that these payments are a fair way of achieving tangible results allowing farmers to make their own decisions about business matters like production inputs and timings.

Practical aspects

Fair and just methods are inherent principles of agroecology and regenerative farming, and the new white paper notes that this type of results-based funding can be phased in to operate initially as a hybrid or more long-term approach. Hybrid approaches blend results-based payments alongside funding for specified measures and practices. Advantages of phased and hybrid approaches include providing a cushion of income certainty for farmers during a transition and implementation.

The EARA describe other technological, financial, governance and political aspects of the proposed agroecology practice. They explain details about remunerating farmers for net primary productivity (NPP) and soil protection results per year and hectare, as well as per absolute and year-over-year results, benchmarked to the results of other plots from the same pedoclimatic region and land use category. 

Impacts on EU soils can be significant from farm-support systems delivering measurable, sustainable performance. The white paper highlights this point for decision-makers and underlines that simple, fair and performance-based payments are feasible. It emphasises how "with a switch to fair and simple hectare-based direct payments coupled to agroecological performance, the CAP can decrease farmer dependency on external inputs and increase on-farm climate change resiliency. Anchored in results-based payments for agroecosystem health, such a farmer-empowering CAP design aims to foster simplification and planning security with a long-term perspective in the agricultural sector".