The next common agricultural policy (CAP), where payments will be made on an area basis, should provide three different levels of acreage support according to the Scottish Parliament rural affairs committee.
In their submission to the Scottish Government, which is known to favour a simpler two levels of payment, the committee unanimously put their weight behind a three-level support system so that farming would “continue to be sustainable in the most challenging parts of the country”.
The committee, which has taken evidence from a wide range of organisations in the past couple of months on how the Scottish version of the next CAP should look, agreed with the Scottish Government that one payment region should be for productive, good-quality land. However, they wanted to see the proposed other payment region – the rough grazing region – split into two so that “appropriate levels of payment are delivered”.
In taking this view, the committee has fallen in line with NFU Scotland, which has pointed out the wide variation in productive capacity on Scotland’s rough grazing land.
However, committee members admitted at a press briefing yesterday that they could not come up with the necessary criteria that could make their recommendation possible.
They also emphasised their primary preference for more coupled support to achieve the aim of supporting productive farming in the more remote areas of the country.
In other points to the government, the committee called for a swift transition from the less favoured areas support scheme (LFASS) currently operating in many parts of Scotland to the new EU defined areas of natural constraint.
Justifying this recommendation, committee chairman Rob Gibson MSP said LFASS might not be delivering the desired outcomes.
Some of the representatives who gave evidence to the committee had argued for an immediate move to area payments after January 2015 when the next CAP comes into being. Fearing that such a move might have a negative impact on Scottish agriculture, the committee supported the view that full transition should not be completed until 2019. Tackling the requirement made by the EU that the forthcoming CAP has to be much more environmentally friendly than before, the committee of MSPs from across the political spectrum has asked for a simple carbon audit to be carried out, possibly using the integrated administrative control system application form as a starting point.
Describing the move to the next CAP as “one of the most important decisions for the agricultural industry in recent times”, Gibson stressed the committee view that a review of CAP funding should take place in 2017 and this review should be led by someone independent of politics and that any changes agreed by the review should be implemented before 2020 if at all possible.