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Report2017Open access

Impacts of direct payments – lessons for CAP post-2020 from a quantitative analysis

Brady, Mark; Hristov, Jordan; Höjgård, Sören; Jansson, Torbjörn; Johansson, Helena; Larsson, Cecilia; Nordin, Ida; Rabinowicz, Ewa


In this report we aim to analyse the economic and environmental impacts of Pillar I direct payments, and to demonstrate alternative instruments that are better suited to achieve CAP objectives. The instruments—a targeted payment to land at risk of abandonment and a tax on mineral fertilisers—were selected on the basis of the Polluter Pays and Provider Gets Principles. We do this using two state‐of‐the‐art agricultural economic simulation models. The first model, CAPRI, is used to quantify the large‐scale or aggregate impacts for individual countries, the EU and the world. The other model, AgriPoliS, is used to quantify the fine‐scale or farm and field level impacts in a selection of contrasting agricultural regions, to consider the potential influence of the large spatial variability in agricultural and environmental conditions across the EU. The results show that direct payments are keeping more farms in the sector and more land in agricultural use than would otherwise be the case, and thus avoiding land abandonment, principally in marginal regions. Particularly the area of grassland is substantially higher, because it is generally less productive than arable land and hence more dependent on direct payments for keeping it in agricultural use. The magnitudes of the impacts of direct payments on land use therefore vary strongly across regions due to spatial variability in productivity: marginal regions with large areas of less productive land are heavily influenced by direct payments, while regions with large areas of relatively productive land are hardly affected, because this land would be farmed in any case. By keeping more farmers in the sector longer, direct payments are slowing structural change, which can hamper agricultural development. However the potential benefits of faster structural change vary considerably among our study regions. In relatively productive regions direct payments are hindering development, because too many farmers are staying in the sector and preventing the consolidation of land in larger farms, which would improve their competitiveness and increase farm profits. On the contrary, the mass departure of farms that is currently avoided, will not lead to the same general benefits in marginal regions. Instead of freed land being absorbed by remaining farms, large areas of relatively unproductive land are abandoned without payments. This land is unprofitable to maintain in agricultural land use, even if integrated into larger farms, because current market prices are too low to motivate farming it. Consequently direct payments pose a serious goal conflict: the avoidance of land abandonment on the one hand, which can have negative impacts on public goods, and restricting agricultural development on the other hand. Once again this goal conflict is rooted in the spatial variability of agricultural conditions in the EU. Maintaining extensively managed farmland, particularly semi‐natural pastures, is central for conservation of biodiversity and preservation of the cultural landscape. Therefore direct payments are contributing to the provisioning of these public goods, but principally in marginal areas. Further, abandonment of land can reduce its agricultural productivity due to erosion or afforestation. Thus, direct payments are contributing to food security by preserving the productive potential of land for the future, but only marginal land since relatively productive land is farmed in any case. Production of agricultural commodities is affected to a lesser degree by direct payments than land use per se. Nevertheless, food exports from the EU are higher and imports lower as a consequence of direct payments. However, the additional supply generated by direct payments also lowers output prices, which reduces the profitability of commodity production; thereby partially offsetting the additional revenues from direct payments. The higher agricultural output brought about by direct payments causes higher levels of environmentally damaging greenhouse‐gas emissions, nutrient surpluses and pesticide use. The higher greenhouse‐gas emissions for the EU are, to some extent, moderated by lower emissions in the rest of the world. Nevertheless, the net effect of direct payments is higher global emissions of greenhouse gases. The environmental impacts of higher nutrient surpluses and pesticide inputs are less conclusive, since these depend also on spatial factors, i.e., where the emissions occur. Although EU‐scale and regional emissions are higher due to direct payments, agricultural production is less intensive generally, on account of the lower output prices. Analysing the net effects of these two opposing forces requires additional biophysical modelling at relevant spatial scales, such as watersheds or landscapes, which is beyond the scope of this study. Pillar I direct payments generate a significant transfer of income to farmers and land owners who are not necessarily farmers; 40 billion euro annually. Of this transfer a substantial proportion goes to farmers in relatively productive regions and, further, to a minority of farmers that need them least. In relatively productive regions payments are not needed for continued agricultural production and preservation of farmland, but instead rather fuel higher land and rental prices, which hampers structural change. On the contrary, the need for support is greatest in marginal regions, because some form of payment to marginal land is needed to avoid its abandonment and the loss of associated public goods. Finally, the direct payments even come at the cost of lower market returns for farmers due to slower structural change (smaller and less competitive farms) and lower output prices (due to greater EU output). On the other hand the lower output prices lead to somewhat lower food prices, but at the greater cost of financing the direct payments. Our main conclusion is that Pillar I direct payments are generating serious goal conflicts due to spatial variability in conditions across the EU. On the one hand these payments are contributing to the provisioning of public goods by preserving marginal agricultural land. On the other hand they are hampering agricultural development, primarily in relatively productive regions. Payments to relatively productive land that would be farmed any way not only inflate land values (capitalisation) but also slow structural change, which are both likely to hinder agricultural development and hence the competitiveness of the EU on the global market. The direct payments also increase environmental pressure; by subsidising land use generally and the associated production, they are incapable of controlling environmentally damaging emissions, which is also in conflict with broad CAP objectives. The goal conflict arises because direct payments are universal, a payment principal that does not consider spatial variability in the EU and the associated trade‐offs in regard to development and environmental effectiveness. Our analysis considered two alternative policy instruments that have the potential to curb the identified goal conflicts associated with direct payments, by applying the Polluter Pays and Provider (of public goods) Gets Principles at appropriate spatial scales. Replacing direct payments with a payment targeted on marginal land (and associated public goods) prevents land abandonment at a lower cost, by avoiding payments to relatively productive land that is farmed in any case. This also allows surviving farms in regions with relatively productive land to compensate for lost direct payments through expansion and associated scale economies, as well as higher output prices. This instrument therefore finances the provisioning of public goods without adverse effects on development and the efficiency of agricultural production. The EU‐wide tax on mineral fertiliser demonstrates that this instrument has the potential to reduce nutrient surpluses. Since direct payments cause higher levels of polluting emissions, policy instruments targeting emissions at relevant spatial scales are needed to achieve cost‐effective abatement. Overall we find that Pillar I direct payments are not addressing the diversity of challenges facing European agriculture. In fact our quantitative analysis indicates that the potential for the current system to meet these challenges is seriously impaired by goal conflicts and spatial variability across the EU. A better policy requires that instruments are targeted on desired outcomes and designed according to sound principles, specifically the Polluter Pays and Provider Gets Principles. These principles would ensure that farmers are provided with appropriate incentives to i) generate public goods that otherwise would be underprovided; ii) mitigate environmentally damaging emissions at the lowest possible cost to society; and iii) continually strive to improve environmental performance. Such instruments are also fairer and promote a more competitive or viable agricultural sector by not obstructing structural change and hence agricultural development.


CAP; kvantitativ analys; ekonomi

Published in

Rapport / AgriFood Economics Centre
2017, number: 2017:2
Publisher: AgriGood Economics Centre