Small and family farmers provide the bulk of food production in Europe (and the world) and their activities are critical to achieving sustainable rural transformation. However, rural entrepreneurs cannot survive without careful and targeted support and relevant advice, where raising the quality of Rural Advisory Services (RAS) to effectively address modern challenges plays a crucial role. For successful farming practices, the adoption of innovative technologies, and the fulfilment of market-related and administrative challenges, advisory networks have an indispensable role to play.
The main legislative framework for farm advisory services in the European Union is related to the implementation of its Common Agricultural Policy and especially rules related to cross compliance.
The 2003 CAP reform introduced the Cross Compliance Mechanism, which provides direct payments for compliance with basic environmental, food safety, animal and plant health and animal welfare standards by farmers, and the preservation of good agricultural and environmental land conditions (GAEC).
Council Regulation (EC) No 1782/2003 of 29 September 2003 established common rules for direct support schemes under the common agricultural policy and establishing certain support schemes for farmers and amending Regulations.
It concludes that in order to help farmers to meet the standards of modern, high-quality agriculture, it is necessary that Member States establish a comprehensive system offering advice to commercial farms. The farm advisory system should help farmers to become more aware of material flows and on-farm processes relating to the environment, food safety, animal health and welfare without in any way affecting their obligation and responsibility to respect those standards.
The introduction of this mechanism resulted in an obligation for Member States to set up an agricultural advisory system to help farmers better understand and comply with EU environmental, human and animal health, animal welfare and GAEC. In this context the national authorities had a duty to offer advice to their farmers under an FAS (Farm Advisory System), using, where appropriate, certain priority criteria.
The farm advisory system covers the whole organization and the various public and / or private operators who provide farm management services to a farmer in a Member State (see Article 12 of the Council Regulation).
The existence of a national FAS guarantees that every farmer can seek and obtain advice, at least as regards the essential cross compliance requirements in the areas of environment, public health, animal and plant health, animal welfare and GAEC. An operating consultancy assesses the specific situation of the farmer and gives appropriate advice.
Therefore it is not optional for a member state to decide whether to have such system in place or not, but in fact it is rather obligatory by the law for each member country to set up and operate a national Farm Advisory System. However, how this network is set up and managed, differs largely country by country.
In 2009, the above Regulation was replaced by a new Council Regulation (EC) No. Amending Regulation (EC) No 73/2009 establishing common rules for direct support schemes for farmers under the common agricultural policy and establishing certain support schemes for farmers. Under this Regulation, a comprehensive farm advisory system must be in place to meet the standards of modern and high-quality agriculture.
The most recent legislations directly affecting EU FAS implementation are Regulation (EU) no. Regulation (EC) No 1306/2013 on the financing, management and monitoring of the common agricultural policy. According to Art. Pursuant to Articles 12 to 14 of this Regulation, Member States are required to set up an agricultural advisory system for beneficiaries on land management and farm management. At the same time Regulation (EU) No. 1305/2013 on support for rural development through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development in Art. 15 provides a framework for a subsidized advisory scheme, the range of beneficiaries, the trainings for advisors, as well as the areas of consultancy services.
Regulation (EU) No. 1305/2013 Article 15 (excerpt)
Advisory services, farm management and farm relief services
1. Support under this measure shall be granted in order to:
(a) help farmers, young farmers as defined in this Regulation, forest holders, other land managers and SMEs in rural areas benefit from the use of advisory services for the improvement of the economic and environmental performance as well as the climate friendliness and resilience of their holding, enterprise and/or investment;
(b) promote the setting up of farm management, farm relief and farm advisory services, as well as forestry advisory services, including the Farm Advisory System referred to in Articles 12 to 14 of Regulation (EU) No 1306/2013;
(c) promote the training of advisors.
2. The beneficiary of support provided in paragraph 1(a) and (c) shall be the provider of advice or training. Support under paragraph 1(b) shall be granted to the authority or body selected to set up the farm management, farm relief, farm advisory or forestry advisory service.
3. The authorities or bodies selected to provide advice shall have appropriate resources in the form of regularly trained and qualified staff and advisory experience and reliability with respect to the fields in which they advise. The beneficiaries under this measure shall be chosen through calls for tenders. The selection procedure shall be governed by public procurement law and shall be open to both public and private bodies. It shall be objective and shall exclude candidates with conflicts of interest.
The areas of possible advisory services listed in Article 15 will be used as one of the main input information for Output 1 in RAMONES project.
We should highlight here again, that the trainings of advisors according to Article 15 are related to the national qualification and accreditation programmes - being formal, central and static – which can be taken into account as some starting point – by the approach of the RAMONES precision learning programme, however our project’s aim is to go much further to the field level, and have clients feedback for monitoring, evaluation, personalized targeted precision learning and certification.
The other important influence of having an advisory subsidy scheme at the level of EU, at the time of implementing RAMONES project, is that it requires from each member states (including project partners) similar mechanisms of record keeping and reporting in relation to service provision under subsidy, which helps to establish more common procedures and better understanding of each other in the project as well. (The member countries can independently set up their own system with national specifics, but the generic rules are similar.)
As we will see from below, our non EU partner, North Macedonia is taking the exact steps to comply with the EU requirements and legal frameworks as described above, which will give them further benefit to participate in RAMONES project and get the experience readily exploitable by their national agencies.