Europe can improve decision making by better monitoring of agriculture

Published on
May 11, 2017

The greening and cross-compliance measures that have been introduced in Europe's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) pose challenges to policy evaluators. Policy makers lack good data to monitor if their measures are effective and efficient. In a large pilot a consortium of researchers with 1,100 farmers from nine European countries have showed that it is possible to collect indicators on sustainability and other new relevant issues such as innovation. This FLINT project proposes to change the current Farm Accountancy Data Network (FADN) and include the new indicators. This can be paid from the current budgets by reducing the current number of farms in the FADN.

Changes in the CAP include attention to public values such as rural development and environmental issues. This raises new challenges for the impact analysis of those policies, especially the access to relevant data of high quality. FLINT is carried out by research institutes, universities and a software company in the Netherlands, Ireland, France, Spain, Greece, Hungary, Poland, Finland and Germany to test a solution that involves Europe’s Farm Accountancy Data Network (FADN). The results of the FLINT project can be upscaled to improve the evaluation of the current and future CAP by implementing them in the FADN for all 28 European countries.

The researchers propose to start with a project FLINT-2 that creates with the 28 national FADNs a Policy Research Infrastructure. The most realistic option is to create an FADN sub-sample of 15,000 farms in 28 member states. This could start immediately and take in data that are already available in national FADNs for past years. The project helps the member states that were not part of the FLINT pilot project to start up their activities and by making software available.

The FLINT pilot project has shown that in general it is feasible to collect these types of sustainability data on new policy topics. Full European harmonisation however is not easy and some flexibility is desirable. For instance, questions on water use were difficult in Hungary (due to a practice of unauthorised water pumping) and the Netherlands (where some farmers were afraid of a future quota or tax). Questions on the future take-over of the farm were experienced as quite normal in the Netherlands but very sensitive in Ireland, where they were only answered in private.

In the data recording process, the relationship between the farmer and the FADN system and especially the FADN data collectors is important. The built-up trust is an important factor in the willingness of farmers to share the FADN data but also the additional FLINT data on the sustainability of their farm. The administrative burden of farmers is relatively small because the information can be collected from invoices or other documents and does not have to be asked from the farmer.

In the Netherlands Wageningen Economic Research already collects a lot of the sustainability data to monitor the performance of the sector and to evaluate environmental legislation. Given the ambition of the government and sector to develop into one of the most sustainable food producing countries, benchmarking with other countries is essential. For this reason Wageningen Economic Research made its experience available to its partners in the FLINT consortium.

In addition to DG Agri, sustainability data is also of interest to other units of the Commission. There is a growing need for data on the sustainability of agriculture, not only among researchers and policy-makers to monitor and evaluate the Common Agricultural Policy with its cross-compliance, greening and rural development measures, but also within the industry The FLINT end report is based on the project deliverables, which have many project members as authors. These deliverables are available on the website of the project.