Cover cropping: Enhancing soil health and biodiversity


In the quest for sustainable agriculture, cover cropping has emerged as a vital practice. Cover crops, which are planted during off-season periods when soils might otherwise be left bare, offer numerous benefits that enhance soil health, improve biodiversity, and reduce soil erosion. This practice is not only a method of soil conservation but also a strategy to boost farm productivity and environmental resilience. In this article, we will explore the principles and benefits of cover cropping, examining its impact on soil health, biodiversity, and erosion control. By understanding the multifaceted advantages of cover crops, we can better appreciate their role in sustainable farming systems and their potential to contribute to a more resilient agricultural future.

Benefits of cover cropping

Soil Health: Cover crops play a crucial role in maintaining and improving soil health. They enhance soil structure, increase organic matter content, and promote beneficial microbial activity. This results in improved soil fertility and better water retention, reducing the need for chemical fertilizers and irrigation. According to Dabney et al. (2001), cover crops can significantly improve soil quality by adding organic matter and nutrients to the soil, which are essential for crop growth.

Biodiversity: The use of cover crops can lead to greater biodiversity both above and below the soil surface. Diverse cover crop mixtures can attract a variety of beneficial insects and organisms, providing natural pest control and promoting pollinator health. Kaspar and Singer (2011) highlight that cover crops create habitats for a range of species, fostering a balanced ecosystem that can enhance agricultural resilience.

Erosion Control: One of the primary benefits of cover crops is their ability to prevent soil erosion. Their roots help bind the soil, reducing runoff and retaining topsoil. This is particularly important during heavy rainfall or on sloped terrains where erosion risks are higher. The Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) program emphasizes that cover crops can reduce erosion by providing ground cover that protects the soil from the impact of raindrops and wind.

The Figure 1 showcases the primary benefits of cover cropping, including improvements to soil health, enhanced biodiversity, and effective erosion control.

Figure 1: Benefits of cover cropping

Challenges and Considerations

While cover cropping offers many benefits, it also comes with certain challenges. The selection of appropriate cover crop species, timing of planting and termination, and management practices need careful consideration to maximize benefits. Farmers may also need to balance the initial costs and labor involved in establishing cover crops with the long-term gains in soil health and productivity.

Practical Implementation

To successfully integrate cover crops into farming systems, it is essential to tailor practices to local conditions and specific crop needs. This involves choosing the right cover crop species, understanding their growth patterns, and aligning them with the main crop cycle. Effective management of cover crops can lead to enhanced soil health, reduced input costs, and improved farm sustainability.

Figure 2: Crop rotation cycle

The Figure 2 illustrates a typical crop rotation cycle incorporating cover crops. The cycle starts in the spring with the planting of a main crop such as corn. During the summer, the main crop continues to grow. In autumn, a cover crop like oats is planted, which grows and covers the soil during the winter months, decomposing and enriching the soil. The following spring, a different main crop, such as soybeans, is planted. This rotation helps improve soil health, manage pests, and reduce soil erosion, contributing to sustainable agricultural practices.


Cover cropping stands out as a powerful tool in the arsenal of sustainable agriculture practices. By enhancing soil health, boosting biodiversity, and preventing erosion, cover crops contribute to more resilient and productive farming systems. The benefits they offer go beyond immediate agricultural gains, fostering long-term environmental health and sustainability. As we face increasing challenges from climate change and soil degradation, the adoption of cover cropping practices will be crucial in ensuring the future of farming. By continuing to research and refine these methods, and by supporting farmers through education and policy incentives, we can pave the way for a more sustainable agricultural landscape.


  • Dabney, S.M., et al. “Cover Crops and Water Quality.” Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, 2001.
  • Kaspar, T.C., and J.W. Singer. “The Use of Cover Crops to Manage Soil.” American Society of Agronomy, 2011.
  • Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE). “Managing Cover Crops Profitably.”
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Digital Transformation in Agriculture: A PESTLE Analysis

Digital technologies offer immense potential to enhance agricultural productivity, sustainability, and resilience. Tools such as cloud computing, remote sensing, big data analytics, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are enabling farmers to make data-driven decisions, optimize crop yields, and improve the quality of food products. These advancements are critical in addressing global challenges like climate change, low commodity prices, and environmental degradation.

The study conducted by AgriDataValue focused on understanding the barriers and drivers affecting the adoption of digital technologies in agriculture. Key components of the study included an initial literature review and an online workshop that brought together 46 participants from various agri-stakeholder groups, including agricultural professionals, researchers, data scientists, policymakers, farmers, educators, agribusiness representatives, and students. During the workshop, a PESTLE (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, Legal, and Environmental) analysis was conducted. The key findings are illustrated in Figure 1. The complete study report can be found in [link to Zenodo:]

Figure 1. Consolidated results of the PESTLE Analysis on Digital Transformation in Agriculture

The insights gathered from the diverse group of agri-stakeholders provide a roadmap for advancing digital transformation in agriculture. By addressing the identified challenges and leveraging the opportunities, we can create a more sustainable, efficient, and resilient agricultural sector. Policymakers, industry leaders, and other stakeholders must collaborate to develop strategies that support the adoption of digital technologies, ensuring that all farmers, especially smallholders, benefit from these advancements.

As we continue to explore the potential of data-driven agriculture, it is crucial to keep the needs and perspectives of farmers at the forefront. By fostering an environment of trust, transparency, and innovation, we can unlock the full potential of digital agriculture and pave the way for a brighter future in farming.

Stay tuned for more updates on our ongoing efforts to drive digital transformation in agriculture and support the farming community in embracing these exciting new technologies.

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AgriDataValue presented in TERRAENVISION 2024 conference.

AgriDataValue partners, St Emilion and RESALLIENCE, presented the project in TerraEnVision conference and submitted a conference proceeding. The TerraEnVision conference 2024 ‘’Nature-based solutions to facilitate the transitions for living within the planetary boundaries’’ was held in Spain, at the University of Valencia, from 8-11 July 2024.  

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AgriDataValue Poster Presentation and Conference Proceeding in AgEng2024 Conference

Following the AgriDataValue online workshop conducted in March 2024 on the Digital Transformation in Agriculture, we have submitted a conference proceeding to the AgEng2024 conference held in Athens, Greece, from July 1-4, 2024. AgriDataValue has been acknowledged in the proceeding titled “Data-driven Solutions for Farmer Empowerment in Smart Agriculture: Challenges and Opportunities,” which is available at the following link: AgEng2024 Proceedings.

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A collaborative initiative by the Horizon Europe projects

An online discussion was held on Thursday, 4h of July 2024, between the Horizon Europe projects AgriDataValueScaleAgData and CrackSense to explore new avenues for collaboration. The purpose of the meeting was to analyse opportunities for future cooperation and to examine potential synergies in dissemination and communication efforts. During the meeting, participants showcased their projects and discussed recent advancements. Among the participants of the meeting there were also the representatives of the National Paying Agency (Lithuania), which is one of the 30 consortium partners of the AgriDataValue project under the coordination of Synelixis Solutions S.A., Greece.

The connecting link of three projects, AgriDataValue, CrackSense and ScaleAgData, is that all of them are being implemented under the same Horizon Europe programme call: HORIZON-CL6-2022-GOVERNANCE-01 (Innovative governance, environmental observations and digital solutions in support of the Green Deal), which means that the above mentioned projects are targeting similar goals and objectives. Therefore joining efforts and sharing data as well as results of respective activities would be an added value for all three projects.

The main idea of the Horizon Europe project AgriDataValue is to establish itself as the “Game Changer” in Smart Farming digital transformation and agri-environmental monitoring, and strengthen the smart-farming capacities, competitiveness and fair income by introducing an innovative, open source, intelligent, multi-technology  and fully distributed Agri-Environment Data Space (ADS). More info about the project you can find here: AgriDataValue

The main idea of the Horizon Europe project ScaleAgData is to develop the data technology (data streaming, data analytics, AI) needed to scale data collected at the farm level to regional datasets built for agri-environmental monitoring and the management of agricultural production. More info about the project you can find here: ScaleAgData

The main idea of the Horizon Europe project CrackSense: to ensure high throughput real-time monitoring and implementing in practice the prediction of fruit cracking by utilising and upscaling sensing and digital data technologies. More information about the project you can find here:

The collective goal of the initiative is to boost the visibility of data-driven agriculture and evaluate the potential benefits of data sharing. The representatives of the above three projects discussed options of mutual communication and agreed upon further joint actions.

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NILEAS presented AgriDataValue Project at 8th Regional Info Day on “The Adaptation of the Peloponnese Region to Climate Change”

During the 8th Regional Info Day on “The Adaptation of the Peloponnese Region to Climate Change” on June 20th in Kalamata, George Kokkinos, President of NILEAS Producers’ Group, presented the AgriDataValue project, which aims to revolutionize the agricultural sector through advanced technology at the European level.  He also delivered a speech titled “Olive Orchards and Climate Crisis: Risks, Challenges, and Opportunities.” He highlighted the need for a comprehensive approach to ensure the sustainability of olive cultivation in the context of climate change. Mr Kokkinos concluded by emphasizing the lack of a coherent policy and plan for the agri-food sector, warning of the potential threat to agriculture due to the escalating effects of climate change.  More than 150 people participated in the event, including policymakers, representatives of local authorities, cultivators, advisors, and scientific community members.

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NILEAS presented AgriDataValue Project at the 2nd Community of Practices (CoP) and Co-creation Workshop of SUPPORT Project 

The second Community of Practices (CoP) was organized on June 12, 2024, by the Greek team of SUPPORT, Smart Farming Technology Group – Agricultural University of Athens, and NILEAS Producers’ Group. Vicky Inglezou, project manager of NILEAS’ Producers Group had the opportunity to present the AgriDataValue project. 17 representatives from the olive sector, i.e., farmers, advisors, and representatives of science, participated to discuss the IPM future scenarios of olive farming through an interactive co-creation workshop. 

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On the use of climate indicators for agricultural planning in Europe

Given the urgency of climate change, the integration of climate projections and indicators has become imperative for sustainable agricultural planning. Europe, with its diverse climatic regions and intricate agricultural landscape, is a representative study area for this purpose. Accordingly, this study presents a methodology for downscaling and representing the most relevant indicators and projections for agricultural planning across Europe. Based on a detailed literature review, several indicators were retained ranging from the impact of temperature fluctuations on crop yields to anticipating shifts in precipitation patterns affecting water management strategies, and beyond for tapping into the intersection of climate science and agricultural resilience. This aspect is one of the pillars of the AgriDataValue project and ambition. Accordingly, using the CMIP6 model outputs, projections of the following climate indicators for the years 2030-2050-2070 under the SSP2-4.5, and SSP5-8.5 scenarios will be performed:

  • Air temperature,
  • Capacity of soil to store water
  • Daily maximum near-surface air temperature
  • Daily minimum near-surface air temperature                
  • Evapotranspiration including sublimation and transpiration
  • Moisture in upper portion of soil column
  • Near-surface air temperature            
  • Near-surface relative humidity         
  • Precipitation
  • Snowfall flux        
  • Cold spells duration            
  • Number of frost days (Tmin < 0°C)
  • Number of ice days (Tmax < 0°C)     
  • Number of hot days (T > 35°C)         
  • Number of very hot days (T > 45°C)
  • Number of consecutive dry days     
  • Drought frequency and severity       
  • Number of days with precipitation above 20 mm
  • Number of days with precipitation above 50 mm        
  • Growing season length      
  • Average largest 1-day and 5-day precipitation               
  • Floods   
  • Landslides             

The Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 6 (CMIP6) is a collaborative international effort involving climate modeling groups worldwide. CMIP6 aims to improve our understanding of climate processes, project future climate scenarios, and provide a basis for assessing the potential impacts of climate change. It involves a suite of global climate models contributed by different research institutions and organizations. These models simulate various components of the Earth’s climate system, including the atmosphere, oceans, land surface, and sea ice. The CMIP6 models are used to generate future climate projections under different greenhouse gas emission scenarios, providing crucial information for climate research, policymaking, and adaptation planning.

Under CMIP6, The Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSPs) are scenarios developed to represent different possible future trajectories of society, demographics, and economics. They are used in conjunction with Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) to explore a range of climate futures. Two specific SSPs mentioned and used in this study are SSP2-4.5 and SSP5-8.5:

SSP2-4.5 (Medium Challenges and Mitigation): This scenario represents a future where global society faces moderate challenges in terms of sustainability and environmental issues. It assumes that, through a combination of technological advances, policy efforts, and societal changes, there is a successful mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. The radiative forcing associated with this scenario is approximately 4.5 Watts per square meter by the year 2100.

SSP5-8.5 (High Challenges and Limited Mitigation): This scenario portrays a future where global society faces high challenges and experiences limited mitigation efforts. It envisions a trajectory where economic and population growth continues without substantial efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, radiative forcing is projected to reach approximately 8.5 Watts per square meter by the end of the century, indicating a high level of warming and associated climate impacts.

As SSP2-4.5 is considered as the intermediate and most plausible, it was chosen as the first scenario for this study. However, according to recent studies, the world is almost at the limit, if not already exceeded SSP2-4.5 and is heading for the pessimistic SSP5-8.5 trajectory. Accordingly, to be sure that we cover the whole range of possible climatic scenarios, SSP5-8.5 was added to the study. The logic behind this inclusion is that by preparing for the worst (i.e., SSP5-8.5), solutions for intermediate scenario will surely be included. Therefore, the SSP2-4.5-SSP5-8.5 ranges were chosen for the study.

2. Methodology

    In this section, the sequential methodology for building the climate indicators is explained:

    Step 1: Collection and review of relevant data and material

    While open-access databases and global climatic models can be considered as potent inputs for agroclimatic risk assessments, their resolution, even after downscaling, presents certain challenges. At each downscaling step, several assumptions are made. These assumptions are often associated with uncertainties that will ultimately affect the quality of the final output. Therefore, calibration with observed data is often needed to ensure the validity of the approach and the integrity of the simulated results. The CMIP6 (Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 6) model is the most used platform for current climate modeling, characterized by its refined parameterizations and improved representation of Earth system processes. Its integration of complex climate components, including atmosphere, ocean, land surface, and cryosphere, facilitates high-resolution simulations for detailed agroclimatic assessments. In the realm of agricultural studies, CMIP6 outputs serve as valuable resources for quantifying future climate scenarios and their impacts on agricultural productivity. Through its multi-model ensemble approach, CMIP6 enables the evaluation of uncertainty and variability in projected climatic trends, thus enhancing the reliability of agricultural planning efforts. By simulating key agroclimatic variables such as temperature, precipitation, and soil moisture dynamics, CMIP6 helps anticipating potential shifts in crop suitability, growing seasons, and water availability critical for informed decision-making within agricultural sectors. Consequently, the utilization of CMIP6 model outputs stands as a fundamental asset in fostering adaptive strategies aimed at mitigating climate risks and bolstering agricultural resilience in the face of evolving climatic conditions. CMIP6 data was obtained from the COPERNICUS Climate Data Store (CMIP6 climate projections ( and from the World Bank Climate Change Knowledge Portal (Data Catalog | Climate Change Knowledge Portal (

    Step 2: Downscaling and correction of climate models

    Data is obtained in NetCDF format from both data sources. NetCDFs were then rasterized to be downscaled from 100 km to 1 km. By transposing NetCDFs to raster and then points, the gridded network can be assimilated to a virtual weather station network. Since the different points contain different climatic values, these can be considered as “spatial weather stations”. Through a specific kriging technique using semi variograms, spatiotemporal variations will be revealed. An example is provided below for extreme precipitations in France (Figure 1).

    Figure 1. Downscaling methodology from the CMIP6 outputs.

    Step 3: Data analysis, exposure methodology, GIS model building

    Following the establishment of the climate indicators, exposure is determined. This framework embodies the first elements of the IPCC risk analysis framework (IPCC, 2014; 2020). Exposure is defined based on the occurrence of the different agricultural covers with respect to the climate risk maps. As the studied climatic risks will show spatio-temporal gradients, different crops and livestock types will be affected at different degrees, hence the GIS-based exposure analysis based on their setting with respect to the risk at different horizons. Accordingly, a site-specific approach will be ensured, hence offering a tailored identification of challenges for planning corresponding solutions.

    3. Results and discussions

    In Figure 2, the evolution of minimal temperatures across the different horizons and scenarios is presented. The same approach is applied to the list of indicators presented in the introduction section. As can be seen from Figure 2, an increase in minimal temperatures is observed throughout Europe.


    Figure 2. Evolution of minimal temperatures across Europe according to the retained horizons and scenarios

    The implications of an increase in minimal temperatures in Europe could have profound effects on the agricultural sector. According to the EEA (2019)[1], changes in temperature and precipitation, as well as weather and climate extremes, are already influencing crop yields and livestock productivity in Europe. Weather and climate conditions also affect the availability of water needed for irrigation, livestock watering practices, processing of agricultural products, and transport and storage conditions. For instance, climate change is projected to reduce crop productivity in parts of southern Europe and to improve the conditions for growing crops in northern Europe. Although northern regions may experience longer growing seasons and more suitable crop conditions in future, the number of extreme events negatively affecting agriculture in Europe is projected to increase.

    In southern Europe, under a high-end emission scenario, yields of non-irrigated crops like wheat, corn, and sugar beet are projected to decrease by up to 50% by 2050. This could result in a substantial drop in farm income by 2050, with large regional variations. On the other hand, in northern Europe, some of the negative productivity effects caused by climate change could be offset by longer growing seasons and more suitable crop conditions. However, most crops will suffer heavy yield damage in case of drought, frosts, or floods. Grassland is also susceptible to drought, causing cascading impacts on the livestock sector.

    In conclusion, the increase in minimal temperatures in Europe could lead to a shift in agricultural practices, with potential benefits in the north being offset by significant challenges in the south. This underscores the need for effective climate change adaptation strategies in the agricultural sector across Europe.

    [1] European Environment Agency. (2019). Climate change adaptation in the agriculture sector in Europe. Retrieved from

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    Advancing AgriDataValue: harnessing the power of Federated Deep Machine Learning

    In the evolving landscape of agricultural technology, the AgriDataValue project continues to push boundaries, pioneering solutions intended to revolutionize the way we approach farming and agri-environmental monitoring. Building upon the foundation laid out in previous discussions, we delve deeper into the advancements made within the project, focusing particularly on the integration of Federated Deep Machine Learning (FDML) into the platform of platforms being developed within AgriDataValue.

    One of the key developments within AgriDataValue is the integration of FDML, an approach that combines the power of deep learning with the principles of federated learning. This integration represents a significant step forward in our mision to address the challenges posed by data scarcity, privacy concerns, and the need for collaborative learning in decentralized environments. In this sense, the new iteration of Hierarchical Federated Learning (HFL) within AgriDataValue offers interesting features, such as the implementation of customizable intra-silo and cross-silo rounds, allowing for finer control over the learning process based on geographic proximity. For instance, fields with closer geographical locations may undergo more intra-silo rounds to refine local nuances, while cross-silo rounds accommodate the integration of diverse data sources from geographically distant locations.

    One of the primary motivations behind the adoption of FDML is its ability to preserve data privacy and security while enabling collaborative learning. Farmers can rest assured knowing that their collected data remains within their silos and are not shared with external entities. This not only fosters trust but also encourages greater participation in data sharing, ultimately leading to more robust and comprehensive AI models.

    Apart from that, FDML facilitates collaborative learning in decentralized environments, allowing farmers to leverage collective insights without compromising data sovereignty. By pooling together diverse datasets from multiple sources, the FDML framework empowers farmers to obtain more accurate predictions and solutions for their specific use cases. For example, models trained to predict irrigation patterns benefit from a wealth of data originating from various locations, resulting in more robust and reliable outcomes.

    The advantages of implementing FDML are manifold. More data in a model translates to more accurate decisions, as the model learns patterns not only from individual farms but also from a broader spectrum of agricultural practices and environments. This is particularly beneficial for applications processing large volumes of geographically dispersed data, where traditional centralized approaches may fall short in capturing the intricacies of diverse farming landscapes.

    The integration of FDML represents the commitment of AgriDataValue to innovation and excellence in agricultural technology. By harnessing the power of FDML, AgriDataValue aims to empower farmers, researchers, and stakeholders across the agricultural ecosystem to make informed decisions, drive sustainable practices, and secure a brighter future for food production.

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    Green Ambitions in the CAP and the conditionality system

    Within the framework of the Common Agricultural Policy, farmers must comply with certain environmental and climate standards, which form the conditionality system and which reflect increased ecological ambitions and consistently contribute to the fulfilment of the objectives of the European Green Deal. Therefore, conditionality plays an important role in increasing the sustainability of European agriculture in the period 2023-2027. The specific objectives regarding the environment and climate, according to art. 6 (1) of Regulation (EU) No 2115/2021 on CAP Strategic Plans aim at mitigating climate change and adapting to it, a sustainable development and efficient management of natural resources (water, soil, air) and conservation of biodiversity and landscape elements. Compliance with the rules on conditionality is mandatory for farmers who receive decoupled direct payments, coupled direct payments, compensatory payments through interventions for rural development (environmental and climate commitments, natural constraints or other constraints specific to certain areas, maintaining forested areas) on the entire agricultural holding and throughout the calendar year in question. Conditionality rules include statutory management requirements (SMRs) and good agricultural and environment conditions (GAEC) standards relating to climate and environment, public and plant health and animal welfare. The way in which the conditionality rules contribute to the specific environmental and climate objectives set out in Regulation (EU) No 2115/2021 is as follows:

    To mitigate the effects of climate change and adapt to it – art. 6(1)(d):

    GAEC 1 – Maintenance of permanent grassland based on a proportional ratio between permanent grassland and agricultural area at national level compared to the reference year 2018. The maximum reduction is 5% compared to the reference year.

    GAEC 1 standard is a new standard, which establishes the general protection clause against the conversion of permanent grassland to other agricultural uses, for the preservation of carbon stocks, as a conditionality for area payments (direct payment interventions and some rural development interventions). This GAEC standard also establishes specific obligations at the agricultural holding level, as follows:

    • the prohibition of removing from the agricultural circuit and changing the category of use of permanent grassland, the prior authorization of the change of destination or use of permanent grassland, as well as the recovery of areas of permanent grassland converted to other uses by establishing new grasslands, from degraded/unproductive lands;

    • the reconversion of some lands into permanent grassland or the creation of permanent grassland areas for farmers who have at their disposal lands that have been transformed from permanent grassland into lands for other uses, if the proportional ratio is reduced by more than 5% compared to reference year and the competent authority imposes such measures under GAEC 1.

    GAEC 2 – Protection of wetlands and peatlands

    The GAEC 2 standard is a new standard with the main objective of protecting carbon-rich soils. This GAEC standard establishes obligations for farmers who own or manage agricultural land and who develop agricultural activities in the perimeter of wetlands and peatlands, as follows:

    • to comply with the management plan and the rules of the protected natural area with regard to the use of agricultural land and the regime of agricultural activities, in the case of wetlands and peatlands designated as protected natural areas;

    • to follow the environmental impact assessment procedure/strategic environmental assessment/adequate assessment for plans or projects, as well as the authorization procedure for activities that may affect the protected natural area, especially those aimed at: surface and underground fresh water abstraction, the introduction of pollutants, the exploitation of peat and the deliberate introduction of non-native species;

    • not to carry out activities contrary to the purpose of protection and conservation of natural habitats, flora and fauna, including carbon-rich soils around the perimeter of wetlands and peatlands – prohibited activities, such as: draining, burning and clearing of wetlands and peatlands, including agricultural land surfaces; discharge of pollutants into surface and underground waters, waste storage; exploitation of peat; the deliberate introduction of non-native species into wetlands and peatlands; conversion of wetlands and peatlands; changes in land use and water flow; ploughing permanent grasslands in wetlands and peatlands; deep soil works, at depths greater than 25 cm;

    • to comply with the minimum conservation measures established by the administrators of protected natural areas, in the case of wetlands and peatlands designated as protected natural areas for which management plans have not yet been developed/approved, according to the legislation in force;

    • in the case of wetlands and peatlands, other than those designated natural protected areas or which are located outside natural protected areas, the minimum conservation measures established by the competent authority for environmental protection are respected. This includes, among other things, the prohibition of new drainages and the ploughing of permanent grasslands in wetlands and peatlands.

    GAEC 3 – Prohibition of burning stubble, dry vegetation and plant debris on arable land

    The main objective of this GAEC standard is to maintain the level of organic matter in the soil, by prohibiting the burning of stubble, dry vegetation and existing plant residues on arable land, thus ensuring the reduction of GHG emissions and soil coverage in the most sensitive periods. For sustainable development and efficient management of natural resources (water, soil, air) (OS5) – art. 6(1)(e):

    The following will contribute to the protection and improvement of water quality:

    GAEC 4 – Creation of buffer strips (protection strips) along watercourses. This GAEC standard has as its main objective the protection of watercourses against pollution and siltation, having the following mandatory requirements for farmers:

    • the establishment of buffer strips (protection strips) on agricultural land adjacent to watercourse protection zones, in which the application of fertilizers and plant protection products is prohibited. The minimum width of buffer strips varies according to the slope of the land, as follows: 3 m for land with a slope of up to 12% and 5 m for land with a slope of more than 12%;

    • maintaining the existing buffer strips (protection strips) on the agricultural land adjacent to the protection zones of the watercourses in which the application of fertilizers and plant protection products is prohibited.

    As additional ambitions, compared to the previous version 2014-2020, we note the introduction of the ban on the application of plant protection products on buffer strips along watercourses, in addition to the requirements of the Nitrates Directive regarding fertilizers, as well as the increase of the minimum strip width buffer at 3m (versus 1m in the previous version) for pitches up to 12% and at 5m (versus 3m in the previous version) for pitches above 12%.

    SMR 1 through the application of measures to prevent or control the introduction of pollutants from diffuse sources, the prohibition of the direct discharge of pollutants into groundwater, measures to eliminate surface water pollution with priority hazardous substances in the water field and the gradual reduction of pollution with other substances that would affect water quality, control of emissions, application of codes of good practice, control of sampling, use of adapted agricultural productions (crops with low water requirements in areas affected by drought), efficient technologies in terms of water consumption, techniques of irrigation that has low water consumption, rehabilitation of irrigation infrastructure, flood risk management (protection/collection/drainage infrastructure – dikes, canals, drainage), etc.

    SMR 2 by observing the prohibition periods for the application of organic and chemical fertilizers on agricultural land, observing the rules regarding manure storage, respectively the location and sizing of manure storage capacities, observing the rules regarding the application of fertilizers on agricultural land in terms of the maximum amount of nitrogen that can be applied to the agricultural land, the fertilization plan and the nutrient pressure at the level of the agricultural holding, compliance with the general requirements for the application of fertilizers and the obligations regarding the techniques of applying organic and chemical fertilizers to the agricultural land, compliance with the obligations regarding the application of fertilizers to the land agricultural land on a steep slope (greater than 12%), on land adjacent to watercourses and in the vicinity of drinking water intakes, on land saturated with water, flooded, frozen or covered with snow, compliance with the rules regarding the application of chemical and organic fertilizers with nitrogen on permanent grassland etc.

    To protect the soil and increase its quality will contribute:

    GAEC 5 – Earthworks management, reducing the risk of soil degradation and erosion, including consideration of slope.

    This GAEC standard has as its primary objective minimum land management to reflect site-specific conditions for the purpose of erosion limitation, having the following requirements:

    • soil works, including the sowing of crops, on arable land with a slope greater than 12% are carried out along contour lines. Land slope means the average slope of the agricultural plot used by the farmer;

    • soil works are prohibited (ploughing, scarification, harrow and rotary hoe work, mechanical harrowing) on lands with very poorly fertile soils, unsuitable for arable use (quality class V), regardless of the slope of the land.

    GAEC 6 – Minimum ground cover to avoid bare ground during the most sensitive periods. The main objective of this GAEC standard is to protect soils in the most sensitive periods and areas.

    • to protect the soils during the most sensitive period of the year (June 15 – September 30), farmers must keep the land covered on at least 80% of the farm’s arable surface. Soil cover can be provided by stubble remaining after harvest, secondary crops, green cover crops or newly established fall crops. In the established interval the soil must be covered, except for the time required for the preparation of the land and the establishment of the main crop of no more than 2 weeks;

    • in the case of permanent crops, the minimum soil coverage during the most sensitive period (June 15 – September 30) means grassy strips between rows, mulch or plant residues on at least 50% of the surface of the permanent crops in the farm.

    Therefore, compared to the requirements of GAEC 4, from the period 2014-2020, this GAEC standard defines the most sensitive period for soil, in which the soil is most exposed to the action of environmental and anthropogenic factors (erosion and degradation) and establishes measures to protect the quality and fertility of agricultural soils by ensuring a minimum level of coverage and protection. In Romania, the most sensitive period for the soil is the summer period (June 15 – September 30) characterized by very high temperatures, lack of precipitation, pedological and atmospheric drought, other extreme weather phenomena that can cause excessive drying of the soil and the occurrence of erosion phenomena, degradation and desertification. The establishment of the most sensitive period for the soil is based on the evolution of the climate data from the last 3 years (2019-2021) recorded at meteorological stations representative of the agricultural territory of the country, compared to the climate data from the period 1981-2010 (average for the country), in terms regarding:

    • average monthly air temperature (⁰C) per country, recorded in the summer months of 2019-2021, compared to the multi-year average 1981-2010;

    • the monthly amounts of precipitation (l/m2) recorded per country, in the summer months of 2019-2021, compared to the multi-year average 1981-2010;

    • the moisture reserve on the soil depth 0-100 cm (mc/ha), recorded in the summer months of 2019-2021, at weather stations with an agrometeorological program (a number of 66 agrometeorological stations).

    GAEC 7 – Crop rotation on arable land, excluding crops growing under water

    The GAEC 7 standard is a new standard, with the main objective of preserving the potential of soils, with the following requirements:

    • general rule: a crop rotation is applied on arable land, except for crops growing under water. The rotation consists of alternating crops at least once a year (crop year) at the agricultural plot level, with the exception of perennial crops, grasses and other herbaceous forage plants, fallow land and crops in protected areas;

    • as an exception to the general rule, one and the same plant species (main crop) can be cultivated on the same surface of arable land (agricultural plot), on no more than 50% of the arable surface of the holding, as follows: a) a period of no more than 3 consecutive years, with the obligation to establish a secondary crop different in species from the main crop between two main crops; b) a period of no more than 2 consecutive years on the areas where the main crop was harvested in late autumn (after November 1) as a result of unfavorable weather conditions, and the establishment of the secondary crop is no longer possible as there are no optimal conditions for emergence and plant development.

    The rotation of crops at the level of the agricultural holding includes the crops established in the autumn of the previous year and the crops established in the spring of the current year of the submission of the payment request, including in the case of the requirement from letter a) paragraph above, the secondary crops managed accordingly. In the crop rotation plan, autumn varieties and spring varieties belonging to the same species, grown for the purpose of production (basic or main crops), are considered as the “same crop”. Secondary crops – grown in the period between two main crops and cover the entire period between those crops without a significant break. Secondary crops cover the soil for a period of at least 8 weeks after harvesting the main crop and must be different in species from them. Secondary crops also include successional crops or double crops sown for harvesting or grazing.Thus, compared to the 2014-2020 period in which such requirements were not applied (norms regarding eco-conditionality), this standard imposes a set of specific requirements, namely agricultural practices dedicated to maintaining the production potential of agricultural soils (soil fertility). For the conservation of biodiversity and landscape elements (OS6) – art. 6(1) (f) will contribute:

    GAEC 8 – The minimum percentage of the agricultural area dedicated to non-productive areas or elements; Maintenance of landscape elements; Prohibition of cutting hedges and trees during the period of reproduction and growth of birds; Measures to avoid invasive plant species.

    This GAEC standard has as its main objective the maintenance of non-productive elements and areas in order to improve agricultural biodiversity, with the following requirements:

    • the minimum percentage of the agricultural area dedicated to non-productive areas or elements at the holding level is ensured, by applying one of the following options: a) the minimum share of at least 4% of the arable land at the holding level allocated to non-productive areas or elements, including abandoned lands fallow; b) the minimum share of at least 7% of arable land at farm level if it includes nitrogen-fixing crops, cultivated without the use of plant protection products, of which 3% represents land left fallow or non-productive elements;

    • the landscape elements are maintained, including hedges/wooded strips, isolated trees , trees in a line, group of trees/ shrub stands , ditches/rivers, earth mounds/mounds and existing terraces on agricultural land;

    • it is forbidden to cut hedges and trees during the reproduction period and breeding of wild birds (period March 15 – August 31);

    • measures are taken to avoid the installation and expansion of invasive plant species on agricultural land.

    GAEC 9 – Prohibition of conversion or ploughing of permanent grassland designated as ecologically sensitive permanent grassland within the perimeter of Natura 2000 sites

    GAEC 9 standard is a new standard with the main objective of protecting habitats and species, with the following requirements:

    • it is prohibited to change the destination or ploughing permanent grasslands designated as ecologically sensitive permanent grasslands within the perimeter of Natura 2000 sites;

    • the exploitation and maintenance works of permanent grassland in the perimeter of Natura 2000 sites are carried out in compliance with the conservation measures provided for in the site management plans or in compliance with the minimum conservation measures established by the site administrator, until the management plan is approved.

    In the application of this standard, it is considered “ecologically sensitive permanent grassland” within the perimeter of Natura 2000 sites, permanent grassland that constitute a natural habitat (priority habitat) whose conservation requires the declaration of a special conservation area, as well as permanent grassland that constitute an important habitat for species of wild flora and fauna (priority species) that are the subject of site conservation.

    Thus, compared to the period 2014-2020 when no such standards were applied, the application of GAEC 9 requirements regarding the prohibition of conversion/ploughing of ecologically sensitive permanent grasslands, as well as their proper operation and maintenance will bring a significant contribution to the protection of natural habitats, flora and fauna in Natura 2000 sites.

    SMR 3 through the compliance by the farmers of the measures provided for in the management plan and the regulations of the avifaunistic special protection area in terms of the use of land surfaces for agricultural purposes and the regime of agricultural activities, going through the procedure of environmental impact assessment/strategic environmental assessment/assessment appropriate for projects or plans, as well as the authorization procedure for activities that can significantly affect the avifaunistic special protection area, the prohibition of the intentional killing or capture of wild birds, the intentional damage, destruction and/or collection of nests and/or eggs from nature, collecting eggs from nature and keeping them, intentionally disturbing wild birds by burning vegetation, cutting hedges, trees/shrubs and agroforestry curtains existing on agricultural land or changes in land use and water flow. SMR 4 through the compliance by farmers of the management plan and the regulation of the protected natural area in terms of the use of land surfaces for agricultural purposes and the regime of agricultural activities, the application of the environmental impact assessment procedure/strategic environmental assessment/appropriate assessment for projects or plans, as well as the authorization procedure for activities that can significantly affect the protected natural area, the prohibition of harvesting, capturing, killing, destroying or harming specimens in their natural environment, intentional disturbance during the period of reproduction, growth, hibernation and migration, the prohibition of damage, destruction and/or intentional collection of nests and/or eggs from nature, damage and/or destruction of breeding or resting places of wild animal species through activities such as burning vegetation, cutting hedges, trees/ shrub stands and existing agroforestry curtains on agricultural land or changes in land use and watercourses, the prohibition of harvesting flowers and fruits, picking, cutting, uprooting or intentionally destroying wild plant species in their natural habitats, in any between the stages of their biological cycle.

    Considering the previously described elements, the necessary conditions are ensured for the large-scale sustainability of agricultural activities carried out by farmers in Romania during the period of implementation of the PNS, as well as a consistent contribution to the objectives regarding climate change, natural resource management and biodiversity protection.

    *The Paying and Intervention Agency for Agriculture (APIA) is the paying agency in Romania responsible for managing certain forms of support for farmers, financed from the European Agricultural Guarantee Fund (EAGF), the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and from the national budget (NB). Our mission as a paying agency is structured around 3 pillars: managing payment requests, controlling them and paying the support to farmers. The agency annually manages a number of approximately 750,000 payment requests, for an area of 9,8 million hectares.

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