Many farmers in Estonia have to restore permanent grasslands

Summer grasslands (illustrative).
Summer grasslands (illustrative). Source: Liivi Mae/

On the basis of data from regional aid applications for 2022, a reduction in Estonia's ratio of permanent grassland above the permitted limit has been detected again. As a result, the common agricultural policy of the European Union requires the restoration of some of Estonia's already-cultivated permanent grasslands. Farmers say that maintaining permanent grassland means leaving fertile land standing vacant.

The maintenance of permanent grassland is one of the requirements to qualify for climate and environmental support from the European Union. In accordance with the regulation, the proportion of permanent grassland in the country as a whole cannot decrease by more than five percent relative to, say, the 2018 reference base.

Katrin Rannik, head of the land use department at the Ministry of Rural Affairs, said that despite the restriction, there are applicants among Estonian farmers who have used permanent grassland, for instance, to cultivate crops. As a result, in order to comply with the necessary share of permanent grassland, some of them will have to be restored this year.

"Each year, the area is inspected and any grassland older than six years is designated as permanent. This is monitored by the Agricultural Registers and Information Board (PRIA), which knows at the end of each year how much permanent grassland has been cultivated and then compares this ratio to the reference data for that year," Rannik explained.

The reestablishment of permanent grassland requires the sowing of grass over a defined area and also the maintenance of the land as grassland for at least five years. This year, 245 applicants in Estonia will participate in this type of activity, covering a total area of nearly 2,300 hectares.

"The reestablishment of permanent grassland does not have to be done in the same location, but the PRIA will still monitor compliance with this obligation on a farmer-by-farmer basis. It is certainly not to be taken lightly, as there are still a large number of applicants who have not fulfilled their obligation to reestablish permanent grassland, making it extremely difficult for others to meet this ratio," Rannik said.

Kervin Adamson, a farmer from South-East Estonia, was among many who were notified in the final days of last year of his obligation. Adamson's company used to be involved in horse breeding, but that is no longer the case, and as a result, it had vacant land.

"So we decided to cultivate the former cattle grazing land, which is fertile land that can produce lots of crops. However, by spring, we will have to reestablish permanent grassland on that land instead," Adamson said.

"We can choose some of the less fertile land, for example, but our less fertile land has long been sidelined and no one really tries to grow crops on less fertile land."

Adamson said that the requirement for farmers means that productive land must be left vacant, which directly contradicts the importance of providing food security in the present day.

Adamson believes that the system for allocating EU subsidies should be reviewed. "Denmark, for instance, has arable land covering 60-70 percent of the country's territory and they have 14 percent of the forest. Taking Estonia, where arable land accounts for only 20 percent of the country's territory and we have, let's say, 51 percent forest, these figures show that the EU cannot be taken as a homogeneous whole and that all member states are different," Adamson said.


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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