Using an ecological understanding of farmland to reconcile nature conservation requirements, EU agriculture policy and world trade agreements.
The reasons behind the recent trend in the EU for environmental objectives to be incorporated into agriculture policy are reviewed. Environmental payments to farmers have become a mechanism for supporting farmers whilst at the same time not generating increased production. There are two important reasons why production must be controlled: (i) because former production policies have been so successful, many sectors have over-produced (for example, there are currently 700 000 tons of beef held in EU intervention stores) and this cannot continue; (ii) because the EU has agreed with its world trading partners (through GATT) virtually to remove production subsidies to farmers by the turn of the century. The danger, already apparent, is that environmental objectives will be misused to provide financial support to farms that are of intrinsically low biodiversity and nature conservation value. This will not be admissible under GATT and there is a danger that the misuse of environmental payments will cause major problems in the next round of GATT negotiations. There are therefore good political as well as ecological reasons for much better targeting of environmental support for farmland. Ecological studies that help in the understanding of the biological processes on farmland may be required, not only for developing a more targeted environmental policy but also in the GATT negotiations.