Growing trees on farmland

Posted on 15 July 2020

Smart choices to plant 3 billion additional trees
On 15 July, just weeks after the European Commission launched the Biodiversity Strategy with the flagship target to plant at least 3 billion additional trees by 2030, WWF and European Landowners’ Organisation (ELO) released a brand new policy paper, developed jointly to bring together the expertise of conservationists and land managers. 
The paper Growing trees on farmland showcases some of the best agroforestry choices available for growing trees on farmland, seeking co-benefits and supporting the restoration of farmland biodiversity. From introducing more landscape features in rural areas to planting trees in alley cropping systems or regenerating wood pastures, many good options exist. At the same time, mistakes we have made in the past, such as planting trees in the wrong places or using the wrong species should be avoided.  
Farmers and landowners are increasingly being encouraged to have more environmental considerations when farming, and growing trees on farmland can be one of their main tools to deliver. However, EU policies are not sufficiently supportive of such efforts. A more comprehensive and favourable policy environment will be needed to achieve the ambitious 3 billion trees target pursued by the Biodiversity Strategy. This paper underlines five key elements that could be improved in the near future to achieve this:
  1. Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) - Eligibility of farmland for CAP direct payments: As it stands, the CAP direct payments do not cover all types of agroforestry, leading to unjustified exclusions from subsidies, which create a perverse incentive against having more trees and shrubs on farmland. 
  2. Common Agricultural Policy - Investment and advice: Sufficient Rural Development funds should be made readily available by Member States to support the advice and the investments required for tree and shrub planting, and for their maintenance in the first few years.
  3. Common Agricultural Policy - Green architecture: The CAP’s green architecture must be conducive to a higher presence of trees on farmland. As a baseline, a fair proportion of landscape features and a minimum width for buffer strips should be set for all CAP beneficiaries.
  4. The recently announced EU Carbon farming initiative and Regulatory framework for certifying carbon removals should cover the activity of growing trees on farms in full detail, as it is one of the major tools available for land managers to sequester carbon and access an additional source of income.
  5. National or Regional regulations on farmland leases should be supportive of agreements to grow more trees, and the legal definitions of agricultural vs. forest land in official registers should be revised where having more trees on farmland creates a loss of land value or disproportionate restrictions to management.

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