European Union negotiators have struck a provisional deal on reforms to the bloc's huge farming subsidy programme, introducing new measures aimed at protecting small farms and curbing agriculture's environmental impact.

The deal ends a near three-year struggle over the future of the EU Common Agricultural Policy.

It will use up around a third of the EU's 2021-2027 budget, spending €387bn on payments to farmers and support for rural development.

Representatives from EU member states and European Parliament clinched the agreement, but agriculture ministers and the European Parliament must formally approve it.

It aims to shift money from intensive farming practices to protecting nature, and rein in the 10% of EU greenhouse gases emitted by agriculture.

The new CAP rules apply from 2023 and do not cover Britain following its exit from the EU.

"On some points we may have wished for a different outcome but overall I think we can be content with the agreement we have achieved," EU agriculture commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski said in a tweet.

"Today's agreement starts a real shift towards a greener and fairer Common Agriculture Policy," tweeted the European Commission's vice president Frans Timmermans.

"It's not perfect, but still a big step in the right direction."

In a statement, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine said that Minister Charlie McConalogue and his officials will study the details of the agreed proposals when they are made available.

On RTÉ's Six One News, Mr McConalogue said it was welcome that a preliminary agreement was reached today.

He said it has been critical that the Ireland has the flexibility to develop its own national CAP plan. He said that during the summer months he will be engaging with farmers from all over the country to bring their input to the national plan.

The Minister said it has been a challenging process getting 27 member states as well as the three institutions of the EU to come together and reach agreement.

However, the Irish Farmers' Association described the provisional agreement as "a bad deal for Irish farmers".

"The combined effects of the proposal will decimate a cohort of farmers in Ireland," said IFA President Tim Cullinan.


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"The minister must push for further flexibility for farmers here.

"The Irish Government will also have to make good on their commitments for national co-financing, and on the €1.5bn from the Carbon Tax in order to protect the viability of tens of thousands of farmers.

"Our EU Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski has done nothing to protect farmers and food production in these talks. He has been submerged by EU Commission Vice-President Franz Timmermans.

"The EU Commission keep telling us they will do an impact assessment of the Green Deal and Farm to Fork strategies before any aspects are legislated for. Yet they have been trying to embed them into CAP reform through the back door."

The ICSA said "farmers are being asked to do more and more for less and less".

ICSA President Dermot Kelleher said: "Many farmers will become even less viable due to direct payment cuts and will then be expected to devote many more hours to delivering public goods in the climate change and biodiversity spheres.

"This CAP reform has been notable also by the extent to which the voice of farmers has been sidelined."

Earlier, before the deal was announced, the ICMSA said the agreement would make farmers "carry the climate change can" for both consumers and corporations.

ICMSA President Pat McCormack said that "putting it mildly" the reforms have the potential to be a disaster for Irish farmers and the rural economy that rests on them.

Campaigners have said the EU's Green Deal is now "lacking credibility".

Birdwatch Ireland said the negotiations have ignored "the science on environmental degradation caused by agriculture policy".

"We are running out of time to address loss of habitat for birds and pollinators, poor water quality and rising greenhouse gas emissions. We know farmers want to do much more for nature and they must be supported to do so," said Birdwatch Ireland Head of Advocacy Oonagh Duggan.

Haggling over climate change aspects

Campaigners and some politicians said the deal failed to align farming with EU goals to fight climate change, warning that many of the green measures were weak or made it optional for member states to require farmers to shift to environmentally friendly methods.

The deal would require countries to spend 20% of payments to farmers from 2023-2024, rising to 25% of payments between 2025-2027, on "eco-schemes" that protect the environment, according to a draft agreement seen by Reuters. The final agreement was not published.

Examples could include restoring wetlands to absorb CO2, or organic farming, although the rules did not define what would count as an eco-scheme.

Any funds below those limits that are not spent on eco-schemes must be spent on green measures in other areas instead.

Other agreements included rules requiring EU countries to redistribute at least 10% of CAP funds to smaller farms. Countries could dodge this requirement if they use other methods to distribute the funds fairly.

All farmers' payments would be tied to complying with environmental rules, such as setting aside 4% of arable land for areas where nature can thrive, or rotating crops annually to boost soil health.

Call for reduction in emissions

EU auditors this week said the current CAP was failing to reduce emissions. EU agriculture emissions, half of which come from livestock, have not decreased since 2010.

The EU's 27 member states approved the reform of CAP in October, but they had to agree with MEPs on the details.

"We were keen to strike a balance between the economic development of farms and the necessary protection of the environment and climate," said centre-right French MEP Anne Sander, who was a key player in the deal.

"Some people sometimes lose sight of the fact that without farm income, there will be no environmental and climate sustainability," she added.

One of the most contentious discussions was over biodiversity requirements with environmentalists furious that obligations on farmers did not go further.

The World Wildlife Fund complained that the resolve originally demonstrated by MEPs ended up being "just a mirage".

The deal handed the bloc's farming-intensive member states "full satisfaction", it said.