A LAST-MINUTE rush of announcements on the details of the next common agricultural policy (CAP) saw mainland Scottish cattle producers informed they will be eligible for €100 (£80) support per calf – but the news for their arable colleagues was either much less favourable or not yet available as they were informed of some of the conditions they will have to conform to under new environmental regulations.
The coupled support for cattle comes after a last-minute decision by the UK government to allow Scotland to use the English share of the policy. This transfer was cleared this week by the European Commission and yesterday Scotland’s rural affairs minister, Richard Lochhead, said the flexibility provided Scotland with the mechanism to target support in line with priorities.
“The process for securing agreement has undoubtedly been challenging but I am pleased that we have achieved this positive result for Scottish livestock producers,” he said.
“It means we are continuing coupled support for beef in Scotland. Specialist beef producers on the mainland will be able to claim around €100 per calf, with island beef producers eligible for higher payments worth around €160 per calf.”
He added that sheep producers in the more fragile areas would also benefit, with support payments of around €100 per ewe hogg, equivalent to approximately €25 per ewe.
The livestock support decision was welcomed by NFUS president Nigel Miller, who said it fitted in with one of the policy priorities pursued by the Union.
But Miller was much less impressed with the decisions on the environmental policies in the next CAP, where Scots will be at a disadvantage to their colleagues in England, and with the fact that, even as the 2015 sowing nears, some decisions were still awaited.
Just under one-third of Scotland’s direct support budget will be allocated to the environmental or greening payment. Farmers with more than 15 hectares of arable land must commit 5 per cent of their arable land as environmental focus areas (EFA).
Yesterday’s announcement confirmed that land lying fallow, catch crops and field margins and buffer strips alongside watercourses could all be included, albeit with differing values.
This list prompted a welcome from the RSPB, with director Stuart Housden saying they struck the right balance between helping the environment and recognising farmers’ concerns.
“Ensuring a sufficient area of land is managed as field margins and buffer strips along water courses will help many birds and other farmland wildlife,” he said.
Also included in EFA options are nitrogen fixing crops such as peas and beans, an inclusion welcomed by Miller saying this might provide a solution for many farmers.
However, he was less happy that all field margins had not been included, as they have in England, pointing out that this would put extra compliance pressure on Scottish producers and “may mean more Scottish productive land is ruled out of production to meet EFA requirements”.
Accepting potential issues around the greening agenda, Lochhead said: “The European Commission has already pledged to review EFAs next year. These are clearly vital issues for Scottish farmers and Scotland will play our full part in that review process.”