IN A move aimed at preventing future cash-flow problems, NFU Scotland yesterday pressurised the EU to allow interim support payments to farmers next year, if the major shift in subsidies in the new common agricultural policy (CAP) throws the computer system into chaos.
Ten years ago, the move to an area-based scheme in England was accompanied by significant problems in sending out subsidy payments, with many famers waiting months for their cash.
Union chief executive, Scott Walker, speaking from Brussels where he had been arguing for an emergency support system to prevent any such problems in Scotland, said: “The new CAP regime and the move towards an area-based payment system from 2015 is likely to drive complexity into the system with the potential for delays.
“Scotland has an excellent track record in delivering SFP [single farm payments] with farmers routinely receiving their support on 1 December each year. Experience in England in 2005 shows what can happen when delivery goes wrong.”
He admitted he would be delighted if he was proven wrong, but said: “Given the risks, we feel it is appropriate to have a contingency plan in place that ensures successful SFP applicants could receive at least a part payment of their SFP when the window opens in December 2015.”
He believed that the existence of such an emergency backstop would allow farm businesses to manage their cash flow. “If, in the event of systems failing, payment could still be received it would help business when talking to banks about extending overdrafts or agreeing borrowing requirements,” he said.
The union worry is that the incoming CAP is more complex than its predecessors with new environmental conditions and more on farm inspections to ensure farmers stick to the rules.
He urged the Scottish Government to ensure they had the resources to cope with what will be one of the biggest ever changes to the support system.
Meanwhile it emerged yesterday that the Secretary of State for the Evironment, Food and Rural Affairs, Owen Paterson, had met rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead on Wednesday despite no plans for a meeting.
Speaking after the meeting, Lochhead said it was becoming clear that, if Scotland wanted more coupled support, it would have to be achieved by a UK scheme that only applied to Scotland, a route with which he was none too happy. “Whilst it may appear this is simply a different way of achieving the same outcome, it may have wider implications, particularly given a Scottish-led scheme only required the UK’s permission for greater flexibility,” he said.