Land owner claimed £3m of EU farming subsidies in a year

The scheme was originally introduced to help food production. Picture: Esme Allen

The scheme was originally introduced to help food production. Picture: Esme Allen

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A Scottish land owner claimed nearly £3 million in farming subsidies from the European Union last year.

Frank Smart, who owns land near the village of Banchory in Aberdeenshire, received the most money in the UK under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

The European Union (EU) payout scheme was developed at the end of the Second World War to combat food shortages.

However, the policy has been criticised over the years with some payments only requiring landowners to keep the area in good agricultural and environmental condition.

Mr Smart received more than £2,900,000 in direct aid in 2015, with the bulk of the money coming under the single area payment scheme.

The landowner has previously been branded a “slipper farmer” - a term applied to those using EU rules to buy up subsidy entitlements and then renting out the land without actually producing crops or keeping livestock themselves.

Chief Executive of farming union NFU Scotland, Scott Walker, said payments should be directed towards active food producers and not simply linked to land ownership.

He said: “We need the CAP to support productive agriculture. What I mean by that, is to support the like of sheep, beef, dairy and cereal farming.

“The big problem just now is that without the CAP subsidy virtually every single farm in Scotland would be making a loss.

“At the moment people view the CAP as a payment to farmers - when it is actually a food subsidy in its simplest form.

“Where we think the problem lies is that at the moment the payment is linked just to the fact that you own land.

“There are conditions put in place and new measures under the most recent reforms which try to tie it more to producing food and stock. That’s a movement in the right direction.”

He added: “We don’t think that simply because you own land that it should be linked to receiving payment.

“What you should be getting that payment for is supporting Scotland’s food and drink sector.

The details of Mr Smart’s bumper payout from these so called ‘naked acres’ comes as NFU Scotland challenges the Scottish Government to fix the “flawed” delivery of the CAP scheme.

The Scottish Parliament’s Public Audit Committee was due to take evidence today on the CAP Futures programme.

The IT programme has been heavily criticised for failing to deliver payments to farmers and crofters accurately and on time.

Mr Walker said: “The IT programme has been a huge problem in this CAP reform, not least for the entire rural economy.

“For the vast majority of farmers the payments are a lifeline to their business. Literally as soon as the money goes into the farm it goes back out again in payments.

“The IT system is still not fit for purpose. The Scottish Government have pre-empted this and will give farmers a national payment in November to keep that cash flowing.

“That’s all good, don’t get me wrong, but this is a short term measure to prevent a car crash.

“What are they doing to get this thing fundamentally correct? Will this system ever be fit for purpose or will we just be limping on year after year with these problems?”

And Mr Walker said the “unknown factors” around Brexit were creating long-term uncertainties around future EU payouts and access to the open market.

He said: “We’ve got assurances that the current system will stay in place until 2019.

“But we’ve not triggered Article 50 to start leaving the EU and it’s probably going to be 2019 until we have the flexibility to do anything.

“So short term while there is uncertainty there, just like any other business, not much will change.

“Long term what we need is access to the European market and a plan to maximise food and drinks exports from Scotland.”

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