NFU Scotland has this week secured a meeting with UK farm minister George Eustice in the latest round of their fight for a better deal for Scottish farmers following the common agricultural policy (CAP) budget allocation.
The promised meeting follows a visit to Westminster where the two union vice-presidents, Allan Bowie and Rob Livesey, took in a debate initiated by Scottish MP Dr Eilidh Whiteford on the issue.
Whiteford spoke of Scottish farmers’ disbelief over the allocation, which will see 84 per cent of the money specifically given by the EU to equalise the support levels in the UK ending up going to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. These countries have average payment rates per hectare of €265 (£221), €247 and €339 respectively and are well above the Scottish level of €130 per hectare.
During the debate, Eustice agreed to meet the NFUS, which indicated it would be following up this offer “as a matter of urgency”.
In a joint statement after the debate, Bowie and Livesay said: “There is a clear-cut cross-party agreement that Scotland is being dealt a poor deal in this arrangement. One of the positive messages to come from the debate is recognition from the UK farm minister that there is an issue, and he is well aware of our concerns.
“We look forward to a meeting with the minister as soon as possible to try to tie down some terms of reference for the review. It has now been suggested that the review will take place in 2016 and this is a step in the right direction.
“This must be a robust review with agreed terms of reference carried out by an independent expert group. Clearly funds must move as part of a transition to fair budgets in 2017.
“We have made it clear to the minister that this debate is not going to go away and we will fight until we have the best deal possible for Scottish farmers.”
£380m will ease pressure on farmers
Farm businesses that have been walking the tightrope with cash flows will receive welcome relief this Monday when almost £380 million of single farm payment (SFP) support goes into their banks.
Yesterday, the Scottish Government confirmed that around about 15,700 producers would receive their cash on Monday, the first day that payments are permitted by European regulations.
The total SFP budget amounts to £450m so this first tranche amounts to 84 per cent of the total. The Scottish Government indicated “almost all farmers” should receive their full SFP by the end of January 2014.
Due to the “financial discipline” imposed by Europe this year, approximately 14,600 farmers receiving SFP of more than €2,000 (£1,668) will receive a small reduction of 2.5 per cent. However, approximately 16,000 farmers who receive their payments in sterling will see an increase of 5 per cent because of this year’s higher exchange rate.
Cabinet secretary for rural affairs Richard Lochhead said he realised the support payments were often a lifeline for Scottish farmers, which was why the government was doing all it could to ensure as many farmers as possible received their SFP as promptly as possible.
He added: “Although financial discipline is being imposed by Europe, we successfully lobbied to minimise its impact on Scottish farmers, and as a result Scotland is receiving about €4m less in cuts than had originally been proposed.
Responding to the announcement, NFU Scotland director of policy Jonnie Hall said: “The physical and financial resilience of farm businesses across Scotland have been pushed to near breaking point over the last 12 months, even with the respite of a decent summer, so prompt delivery of the SFP is very welcome, but also badly needed.
“Getting so many payments out on the first day that payments are permitted by European rules is commendable, and we look to the Scottish Government to make every effort to complete its full payment run by the end of December.”