Scottish rural affairs minister Richard Lochhead admitted yesterday that the short consultation on how much cash should be transferred to the environment and development part of the next common agricultural policy (CAP) had provided widely divergent views.
After making the decision to transfer 9.5 per cent, or £46 million, annually from directly supporting farming, Lochhead revealed that the consultation responses had ranged from some respondents wanting a much lower transfer rate to protect direct payments to farmers, while many others called for a bigger transfer to increase support for environmental schemes.
He believed the 9.5 per cent transfer, which was the original Scottish Government proposal, provided the right balance between supporting farmers and rural development.
“This will deliver a rural development budget of over £1.3 billion over the next seven years, much of which is invested in improving or sustaining farming, including essential less favoured area support (LFASS),” he said.
The shift will allow an increase of £350m going into agri-environment schemes over the next seven years.
He admitted that concerns about the LFASS scheme which supports hill livestock farmers had been expressed and promised the Scottish Government would undertake a review of the scheme when it changed into support for areas facing natural constraints (AFC) by 2018 in line with European regulations.
Expressing his disappointment at the decision, NFU Scotland president Nigel Miller said that the transfer came on top of the reduction in the direct support budget.
“Given that the total pot of funding available for direct support will be significantly lower than before, farmers will be disappointed that they face 9.5 per cent of that money being stripped into rural development funding,” he said.
“That level of transfer exceeds the existing modulation rate – equivalent to a 6.75 per cent transfer – and risks further eroding our production base at a time when we want to grow our food and drink industries.
“We know there is a balance to be achieved on competing priorities but we believed that could have been addressed by introducing a lower transfer rate and then assessing the success of rural development measures at the mid-point review.”