Agri-environment-climate measures (AECMs), organic farming and animal welfare measures

Agri-environment-climate measures (AECMs), organic farming and animal welfare measures are essential instruments for achieving environmental objectives under the Common European Agricultural Policy. The European Union’s legal framework requires at least 30 percent of funding to be in rural development programmes according to Article 59(6) of the EU Regulation on support for rural development (EAFRD).

Definition of the terms “agri-environment-climate measures”, “organic farming” and “animal welfare measures”

Besides contributing to environmental and nature conservation, these measures aim in particular to preserve and increase biological diversity, improve soil structure, decrease the application of fertilisers and pesticides – also in sensitive waters – and protect animals.

The promotion of agri-environment-climate measures (AECMs), organic farming and animal welfare measures are essential elements of the Federal Republic of Germany’s National Strategy for Rural Development. In total, about one quarter of the financial resources available to Germany for rural development in the EU programme period 2007 to 2013 were spent in support of AECMs. In the EU funding period from 2014, the payments for organic farming and animal welfare measures have been assigned an individual budget line each, besides the support for AECM under the EAFRD Regulation. Payments for organic farming and animal welfare measures are therefore no longer part of the AECMs for the purposes of this Regulation.

In implementing AECMs, introducing or maintaining organic farming according to the provisions laid down in Regulation (EC) No 834/2007 or carrying out animal welfare measures, farmers voluntarily undertake, generally for a period of five years (at least one year in the case of animal welfare measures), to comply with the AECM management requirements laid down in the funding guidelines of the Länder or with environmentally and animal-friendly husbandry practices on their farms. The conditions laid down in these funding guidelines must go beyond the legally prescribed minimum requirements.

The payments for AECMs, organic farming or animal welfare measures may only compensate for additional costs or lost income caused by requirements that exceed management and husbandry requirements laid down by other legislation. This is the case, for instance, where lower yields are achieved as a result of reducing fertilisation or reducing the use of plant protection products.

Farmers committing themselves to the implementation of AECMs, organic farming or animal welfare measures are thus providing important services to society:

  • improvement of soil structure, protection of soil against water and wind erosion, preventive flood control;
  • conservation and enhancement of biological diversity by creating and preserving natural habitats;
  • water protection by reducing fertiliser and pesticide inputs;
  • climate stewardship by reducing greenhouse gas emissions;
  • maintenance and preservation of cultural landscapes; and
  • animal welfare.

Legal framework for the agri-environment-climate measures (AECMs), for organic farming and for animal welfare measures in Germany

AECMs, organic farming and animal welfare measures are supported in Germany via financial contributions from the EU, the Federal Government and the Länder.

The EU’s legal basis for support during the programming period 2014-2020 is the EAFRD Regulation. The relevant articles of this Regulation are Articles 28, 29 and 33. The support scheme is put into concrete form in Germany through the Länder programmes for rural development (EPLR) that are implemented via funding guidelines.

For measures under the Joint Task for the Improvement of Agricultural Structures and Coastal Protection (GAK), the Länder can, based on the GAK Act, take advantage of co-financing by the Federal Government.


Joint Task for the Improvement of Agricultural Structures and Coastal Protection (GAK)

Funding section 4 on “market-adapted, site-adapted and ecologically-compatible land management, including contractual nature conservation and countryside stewardship” (MSUL) of the GAK covers a broad spectrum with the following groups of measures: 

  • cooperation in rural areas for market-adapted and site-adapted land management;
  • organic farming and other particularly sustainable farm operations;
  • particularly sustainable procedures in field cropping or using perennial specialty crops;
  • particularly sustainable procedures on permanent grassland;
  • particularly sustainable procedures with permanent crops;
  • particularly sustainable and animal-welfare oriented husbandry;
  • maintenance of the diversity of genetic resources in agriculture;
  • non-productive investments in nature conservation;
  • contractual nature conservation; and
  • protection against damages caused by wolves.

The MSUL funding section cangak-foerdergrundsaetze be found here (in German).

 From 2014, the groups of measures have been aligned with the requirements of the new EAFRD Regulation. For example, the planting of hedgerows, hedge banks, tree rows or field shrubberies was added with the primary objective of preserving and promoting biodiversity.

 After the GAK Act was amended in September 2016, funding section 4 was expanded to cover non-productive investments in nature conservation (2017) and contractual nature conservation (2018), with the aim of creating, restoring and developing habitats and living environments for wild animals and plants in cultivated landscapes.

The GAK framework plan sets out the requirements/conditions that must be met for the Federal Government to provide funds. The Länder decide which support measures they wish to use based on their priorities and regional needs. Farmers are therefore subject to the funding guidelines of the Länder, including those on fixed payments.

 Under the GAK, the Federal Government is also involved in funding the introduction and maintenance of organic farming. For comprehensive information on organic farming in Germany and the support schemes available to help introduce and maintain organic farming, please click on this link:

Länder support schemes

cattle on pasture pasture grazing
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The Länder support the majority of the AECMs with their own funds, for the most part complemented by EU co-financing aid, for instance contractual nature conservation, promotion of landscape and biotope management, and support for endangered farm animal breeds. 

Occasionally, the Länder also offer regional support schemes that build on the GAK support. A comprehensive overview of the support schemes provided by the individual Länder can be found on the homepage of the German networking unit for rural areas.

Acceptance of AECMs, organic farming and animal welfare measures

In 2018, agri-environment-climate measures, organic farming and animal welfare measures were carried out on an area of approximately 3.78 million hectares; the funds for these measures totalled about 711 million euro of public funds (GAK funds, GAK-related Community funds, additional national resources and related Community funds) (source: GAK report to the BMEL).

 About one quarter of the total funding volume (about 150 million euro) was spent on organic farming. Please find more information on Länder funding for the introduction and maintenance of organic farming in 2015 at

The GAK offers a range of environmentally friendly, animal-welfare oriented husbandry methods which have special requirements regarding pastoral farming (summer grazing), indoor confinement on straw and the size of the available housing area. These animal welfare measures are currently only offered by a few Länder.

Implementing the ACMEs 2014 – 2020

The implementation of the ACMEs from 1 January 2014 must take account of the provisions of the EAFRD Regulation and especially the specifications laid down in Regulation (EU) No 1307/2013 (Direct Payments Regulation, 1st pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy) of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 in respect of the so-called “greening requirements”:

  • crop diversification (three first season crops);
  • preservation of grassland; and
  • provision of ecological focus areas amounting to 5 percent of arable land (wording of the Regulation: “having ecological focus area on the agricultural area”).

Certain ACMEs of the GAK can be designated as ecological focus areas (for example arable land under legumes in the context of support for diverse cultures, promotion of catch crops or undersown crops during winter and integration of natural open farmland structures). The Länder determine whether and, if applicable, which ACMEs can be designated as ecological focus areas (EFAs).

 Since the requirements for the provision of EFAs are already compensated for under the first pillar (greening payments), these requirements cannot be supported again via the ACMEs (second pillar) (prohibition of duplicate financing). If ACMEs are designated as EFAs, the ACME payment is reduced accordingly. Compared to the EFAs, ACMEs have more stringent requirements (for example minimum width for flowering strips).

 Organic farming operations are exempted from the greening conditions because requirements for this farming system go far beyond the greening conditions.

Meeting certain organic requirements is deemed equivalent to fulfilling the greening conditions. The payments for organic farming therefore include the deduction of a specific sum to ensure there is no duplication of financial assistance.

In comparison with the EU funding period 2007 to 2013, there has nevertheless been an increase in the income losses of farmers engaged in organic farming or in ACMEs, as their production is restricted by greater environmental requirements. The increased income losses are due mainly to the producer prices in the conventional sector, which have remained stable at a higher level in recent years. This is also why payments for organic farming and for ACMEs under the GAK (market-adapted, site-adapted and ecologically-compatible land management, including contractual nature conservation and countryside stewardship – MSUL) were increased in the GAK framework plan 2015–2018 (decision by the Federal Government/Länder Planning Committee for Agricultural Structures and Coastal Protection of August 2014). 


By shifting 4.5 percent of the financial resources from the 1st pillar of the Common Agricultural Policy to the 2nd pillar, more EU funds will be available to the Länder from 2016; these funds will be allocated to the ACMEs, to organic farming and to environmentally sound and animal-welfare oriented husbandry practices, in addition to other areas of support. National co-financing is not required for these reallocated Community funds (100 percent financing by the EU).

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