Miller demands support focused on food production

Nigel Miller urged speedy action over CAP decision. Picture: Contributed
Nigel Miller urged speedy action over CAP decision. Picture: Contributed
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ONE of the big concerns over the forthcoming reform of the common agricultural policy (CAP) is who will have “entitlement” to financial support. Yesterday, NFU Scotland president Nigel Miller urged that a speedy decision was made over this aspect of policy.

He told farmers at the AgriScot exhibition at Ingliston that the union believed entitlements should be based on 2013. This would help retain subsidies for active farmers and also prevent future speculation over people trying to muscle in on getting a larger share of what will admittedly be a much reduced pot of cash.

The union is about to embark on a round-Scotlandy tour of members’ meetings and the thrust from headquarters is to push the Scottish Government to make early decisions to reduce uncertainty as well as making sure the support is targeted at those actively producing food.

“The shift to an area-based system could be brutal. But targeting support only to those who are active and looking at coupled options for our most vulnerable sectors means getting the best value out of a blunt area payment system. Finding a system that works will not be easy but it is a challenge that we and the Scottish Government must embrace.

“A simple look at the three million hectares in Scotland classed as rough grazing provides a snapshot of the challenges we face in trying to secure a scheme that properly recognises and encourages activity in a region where massive variances in stocking rate exist.”

Rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead admitted that the change to area payments would inevitably produce winners and losers.

He also threw out a broad hint that, while the official CAP reform consultation papers from the Scottish Government would be coming out shortly, it was likely he would be supportive of a transfer of cash from direct payments to farmers into the pot of money aimed at wider environmental benefits.

Inevitably both speakers criticised the UK decision on sharing out the CAP budget, with Miller highlighting the union campaign to get the findings of the promised 2017 review implemented shortly thereafter.

For his part, Lochhead berated the UK decision on the grounds that it left Scottish farmers on the bottom rung of the subsidy ladder in Europe. Speaking later,, he refused to give full support to the union campaign.

In his speech, Lochhead announced the setting up of a group to look at options for increasing sustainable long term growth in Scotch beef production.

“To fully capitalise on new [export] streams,” he said, “it is vital that we look to produce more top-class Scotch beef to export. We already know it is an iconic Scottish product but we need to expand the brand.

“To do this, we need to take an in-depth look at the issues surrounding livestock production and help our producers and processors recognise and seize the opportunities that are now open to them.”

The group will be headed by Quality Meat Scotland chairman Jim McLaren and will report by next June.