Comment: CAP reform explained... oh no it isn’t

NFUS's valiant attempt to defeat the panto villains. Picture: Gordon McBrearty
NFUS's valiant attempt to defeat the panto villains. Picture: Gordon McBrearty
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sometimes you’ve just got to take your hat off to NFU Scotland’s sterling efforts. The job of spelling out some of the details of the reformed common agricultural policy (CAP) to those who would be at the sharp end was never going to be an easy task.

But it might easily have turned into a pantomime. The union had organised a series of meetings around the country to coincide with the launch of the official discussion document, but, in a bad case of consultation constipation, the Scotgov fairy godmothers still hadn’t released their proposals by the time the meetings were billed to start.

Despite the postponement of the first few performances to await the arrival of the official proposals, it became clear that there simply wasn’t going to be time for the union to get round all the venues before everything stopped for the festive season.

And with impatience growing amongst the rank and file to find out what the reforms would mean on the ground, it became a simple case of “the show must go on”.

Although the union stalwarts would probably have liked to have had a magic wand to conjure up the consultation, they still managed an excellent routine in its absence.

So the meetings didn’t actually open with the line: “It’s the Scottish Government’s consultation on the implementation of Pillar One of the CAP reform,” and if they had I guess the reply from the audience might technically have been “Oh, no it isn’t!”

However, the union had performed the dress rehearsal in front of the very civil servants who were supposed to have drawn up the document without hearing too much booing or hissing – and this was more than sign enough for the union to be confident in giving the time-honoured reply of “Oh yes it is!”

So the jam-packed calendar of both matinee and evening performances saw the union’s team - especially policy guru Jonnie Hall – packing in enough shows to put many a seasoned pantomime dame to shame.

And with farmers around the country putting the fan-base of a One Direction concert to shame in their rush to get a seat, the cast found themselves playing to packed houses wherever they went.

It would be fair to say, however, that ,during the actual performances, few sweets were thrown to the audience – and the name of the game was spelling out just how little cheer lay around the corner.

Kicking off what was close to a one-man show, Hall set the scene by comparing attempts to balance the needs of the different farming sectors with the only limited flexibility given by the Commission to walking backwards up a stair while carrying a tray full of water. As the evening wore on, most of the meeting would have accepted “whilst blindfold on a pogo stick” without feeling the metaphor was being stretched.

Hall explained just how hugely complex the whole thing has become, especially since the European Commission played the dastardly Captain Hook and stopped member states using stocking densities to fulfil the Scottish clause of making sure that payments went to active farmers.

And although calls have been made for an appeal against the decision at today’s meeting of the Council of Ministers in Brussels, finding an alternative measure was very much on the cards.

Finding a way around the problem is proving problematic. But found it must be – otherwise the slipper farmer franchise could be extended to include slipper estate owners, with hundreds of thousands of hectares of previously unclaimed land being drawn into the equation, resulting in a massive dilution of everyone’s payments.

Even after that mountain has been climbed, Hall said there’s still the thorny problem of delivering the support to where it’s needed. One of the first targets would appear to be stopping Jack taking the cow to the market – and coupled support might help save suckler herds from being sold for a handful of beans.

On the arable front, however, magic beans might be exactly what growers were looking for. Not only would they help growers qualify under the three crop rule – but, being a nitrogen-fixing crop they could even count towards the ecological focus areas requirement, killing two birds with one stone.

But I’ve only scraped the surface of the sea of ripples which we heard the changes will send through Scottish farming. Let’s just hope that we can look back in the fullness of time and say that we all lived happily ever after.