Scottish farmers will learn how the implementation of the new common agricultural policy is likely to affect their businesses when rural affairs Cabinet secretary Richard Lochhead announces the details to the Scottish Parliament next Wednesday.
Speaking at Scotsheep in the Borders yesterday, Lochhead said that until then he would remain tight-lipped on the details of “the most difficult decisions” he had had to take in his seven years in the job.
“In the last few weeks, we have been ironing out the final pieces of the jigsaw and in the final days we have been in intense discussion with many stakeholders in the industry.
“Like every single farmer and crofter in the country, I care deeply about how this reform package will affect the industry – and want to produce the best deal for Scottish agriculture PLC.”
Lochhead was confident that he would be able to take the best decisions for the industry under the restraints that had been imposed on him: “However, we have to realise that the more complex the scheme is, the more difficult it will be to deliver on the ground – so we have to balance these two issues.”
He wants to avoid the problems that have afflicted the rural payments scheme south of the Border when it moved to an area-based scheme.
However, the subject of where balance between complexity and over-simplification was set to lie was the subject of much speculation at Scotsheep and revolved around the speed of transition to area payment, the use of coupled support, the strength of the negative list and the ability to discourage a new breed of low-intensity farmers.
Clearly rattled by reports that the move to area support could be from day one of the new scheme, not only had the union launched an e-mail petition but members of the Scottish National Farmers Union board of directors were involved in an after-hours teleconference on Tuesday night. Speaking at Scotsheep, union vice-president Allan Bowie said that moving to area payments with no transition period would lead to “meltdown in Scottish agriculture”.
He continued: “Businesses need time to restructure to cope with the new area-based system. Some producers will see their support fall by more than 60 per cent and these businesses need time to adapt.”
He added that for new entrants and businesses which had been penalised by the old system, there should be the option for going straight to area-based payments, but for the majority of established producers this was simply not an option.
Commenting on calls from some sectors for a vote of no confidence to be taken in the rural affairs secretary, he said that it was “too early for such a move to be even considered”.
He said the union would continue to press its case with intense lobbying up to “the wire”.
• A delegation of farmers, machinery dealers, auctioneers and others involved in the ancillary industries from the North-east – led by members of the NFU board from the area – will today lobby MSPs on the reform measures, with the aim of ensuring a favourable outcome for farmers.
Improving animal health can help cut emissions
Despite the rain, the fog and the mizzle affecting the Borders yesterday, organisers at Scotsheep were upbeat about the attendance figures and those running trade stands declared themselves delighted with the event.
However, away from the immediate weather problems, Professor Julie Fitzpatrick, chief executive of the Moredun Institute told sheep producers that climate change and global warming were issues that affected all sectors of the farming industry.
She said that there was now little doubt among experts that recent increases in temperature of between 0.2 and 2 degrees centigrade across the globe were being encouraged by greenhouse gas emissions.
It was believed agriculture accounted for around 20 per cent of all emissions: “And most worrying for livestock producers is the fact that 50 per cent of this figure comes from methane production, much of which originates from ruminant animals such as sheep and cattle.”
She said that the International Panel on Climate Change believed that this figure could be reduced by 20 per cent if animals were better managed. “They speak about better feeding and better genetics – but better health also plays an important role.”
Fitzpatrick said that poor performance and even death made the whole process more wasteful and calculations had shown that infections accounted for a 17 per cent loss of production in the UK – and this figure rose to 30-35 per cent in many countries.
“By improving health, we can improve productivity and reduce needless greenhouse gas emissions as well,” she professed.