More targeting and less flattening of support payments is the only way Scotland can hope to implement the reformed common agricultural policy (CAP) without creating devastating disruption to farming businesses across the country.
That was the message given to a packed audience of farmers in Perth by NFU Scotland’s policy chief, Jonnie Hall, on Tuesday night.
Stressing that there was only a fixed pot of support money, he said that making sure it was targeted towards productive areas was crucial:
“Currently there are far more hectares out there than entitlements – if all these unclaimed and largely unproductive hectares are brought into the equation there will be a massive diluting effect for everyone,” he warned.
Hall was speaking at the second in a series of meetings organised by the union some time ago to coincide with the launch of the Scottish Government’s consultation on Pillar One. But, despite the fact that the consultation had not yet been released, the union had decided to push ahead with their own meetings.
Having given his presentation to leading civil servants involved in drawing up the consultation, Hall, however, was able to say that the union was “close to certain” that the issues being addressed were those that would be in the consultation.
A major frustration for all parties involved in planning the implementation of the new CAP, said Hall, had been the European Commission’s last-minute outlawing of the use of stocking densities to make sure payments went to active farmers.
Despite the fact that the use of stocking densities – the so-called Scottish clause – was now mandatory across the whole of the EU, the commission’s ruling that measures to identify active farmers should not require the “production, rearing or growing of agricultural products” had left everyone stunned.
No amount of lobbying, he said, was going to see stocking densities allowed – so finding an alternative means of doing the same thing simply had to be found.
Although activity in 2015 would effectively be the base year for new entitlements, he said a “partial” solution might be to limit entitlements to the number held in 2013 – as, although it would not stop the areas claimed as naked acres entering the equation, it would keep the bulk of unclaimed land out.
“But clearly this would have to go hand in hand with a workable national reserve for those who had entered or expanded since 2013,” he said.
The amount transferred from direct payments (Pillar One) to rural development (Pillar Two) would also have a big impact on farmers’ basic payments. With the UK Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs set to transfer 15 per cent in England, the union still believed that, although the 9.5 per cent proposed by the Scottish Government was more reasonable, a lower figure could still be argued for.
Getting regionalisation right was another important area – and it looked like a two or three way split was on the cards.
“A rough grazing/non rough grazing split looks the most likely scenario but a three way split to include permanent grass as a separate category might be acceptable – but we certainly won’t convince the Scottish Government that more categories than this are workable,” said Hall.
Putting some figures on the options showed that, without some form of targeting, it would be impossible to grant sufficient support to more productive farms in the hills without overcompensating those with low productivity.
For arable farmers, where greening measures were the main worry, Hall revealed that, although there might be considerable disruption to some businesses, the overall effect was likely to be limited as many producers would qualify for exemptions. Hall said: “Of an estimated 17,500 producers in Scotland, around 800 will be affected by the three-crop rule and on the ecological focus areas (EFA) many will already have sufficient areas to qualify.”
He added that multipliers and weightings for EFAs meant that a buffer zone alongside a burn would count as nine times the area it actually took up, revealing that on a 100ha farm only around 0.75 ha of buffer strips would be required to fulfil the regulations.
‘Clearer’ rural development plan unveiled
Detailed proposals for a “clearer, more effective and less bureaucratic” Scottish rural development programme (SRDP) were finally revealed yesterday by rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead. The long-awaited proposals for Pillar Two measures included plans to protect rural development support for farmers, including the less favoured area support scheme (LFASS), and increases in funding for agri-environmental schemes. Worth more than £1.3 billion between 2015 and 2020, the proposals – which also cover forestry, Leader and infrastructure support measures – will be the subject of a formal consultation which ends at the end of next February.
A spokesperson said that the separate consultation on Pillar One – see main story – would be launched next week.