The Good Ship CAP has survived the worst of the political storms and might now be approaching the shallower waters of the reform process – but some major reefs and strong undercurrents have yet to be navigated on the homeward stretch.
And this week, NFU Scotland warned that it was time to unfurl the mainsail and get all hands on deck to make sure that the industry found safe anchorage rather than ending up beached on the shore.
After a hectic week lobbying politicians at Westminster and Holyrood, union president Nigel Miller, yesterday urged the industry to make the most of the next few months to ensure that the final details of the common agricultural policy (CAP) were hammered out quickly and to best effect.
“Scotland’s agricultural support system is about to change significantly, and farmers and crofters need to know soon how this is likely to affect them. The new CAP will come into being in 15 months’ time and there is a great deal to be done to determine how it will be implemented and to put the right systems in place to guarantee the transition happens as smoothly as possible,” he said.
He added that budget issues still had to be settled between the UK and Scottish governments, and urged both parties to reach an equitable deal which saw similar farms with similar management getting similar levels of funding, no matter where they were in the UK.
“We know that money is tight and is likely to become even tighter, so we shall have to be smart about how we direct it; this means steering direct support towards productive land while determining a sufficient level of coupled payment to livestock producers, especially those on less productive land, in order to prevent de-stocking,” said Miller.
Putting some flesh on the bones of this key proposal, Jonnie Hall, director of policy with the union, said that a larger degree of coupled support would allow finer tuning of payments for the livestock sectors – with lower area payments being supplemented by a coupled top-up which more accurately reflected the level of production.
Securing a coupled budget based on the UK ceiling – although a long-shot – could allow this approach to be extended to the sheep sector. And although fears had been voiced in the sheep world over extra bureaucracy for such measures, Hall believed it could be as effective as it had in the beef side.
On modulation, Hall said that the union believed that minimising the transfer of funds from Pillar 1 to Pillar 2 would protect direct payments to farmers adding that a continuation of the four per cent level currently collected by the Scottish Government would, if match-funded, be sufficient to maintain a viable rural development sector, including the all-important LFA payments.
On greening issues he did not agree with rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead’s comment that they would only affect a small number of arable farmers:
“Under the three-crop rule alone there are many units which grow only barley and grass,” he said.
However, Hall admitted that for some arable growers allowing protein crops such as peas and beans to count towards the five per cent environmental commitments had been a help.