CAP reform – ‘now the hard work begins’

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Any thoughts that decision-making on the new common agricultural policy (CAP) was all but done were dismissed yesterday by Jonny Hall, policy manager for NFU Scotland.

“We are now at the end of the beginning. Scotland now has to get on with the sheer hard graft of putting all the important details into the policies,” he warned at a press briefing in Edinburgh.

And he was backed by Union president Nigel Miller, who said the volume of work that had to be achieved before a detailed implementation plan is submitted to Brussels for approval by the middle of next year could cause “meltdown” in the corridors of the Scottish Government. What was supposed to have been a simpler, less bureaucratic, CAP had, especially in the past week, become much more complex, he said.

He said that there are now so many options in the devolved package approved in Brussels this week – with many of these interacting – that it is difficult to decide which paths to go down.

One route seems a must for the Union and that is Scotland has to use all of the 8 per cent coupled payment option available to it. Miller stressed that this linked support payment might not only apply to the beef sector but also to those keeping sheep in the hills and islands.

While he accepted there was not unanimous support in the sheep sector for linked support payments, because of potential cross compliance problems, he believed those farming the 800,000 or so ewes on the Scottish hills needed an added incentive to keep core numbers of livestock in those areas.

Another coupling option has emerged with what Hall called the French option. This could mean an additional 5 per cent being paid to those farming in some of the more disadvantaged areas. This geographical coupling could help an area such as Orkney which currently looks as if it would lose out financially when payments are made on an area basis.

Miller incidentally did not dismiss the hope that Scotland might still benefit from additional coupled options through England, or the UK government, not taking up their full quota. This possibility has been bandied about for the past six months and appeared to be closed off by UK farm ministers but Miller thought it was still a negotiating point when the four parts of the UK meet later this year to decide the share of the CAP budget.

Miller had earlier said he now felt cautiously optimistic.

He specifically mentioned the changes to new entrants, with the door being opened wider as a plus.

Even the environmental – or greening – policies, which concerned the Union from the early days of the negotiations to the point where they were called a “nightmare”, appeared, he said, to be more workable, with the imposition of environmental focus areas being reduced to 5 per cent of the farm.

Miller admitted the three-crop rule could badly hit some cereal producers but he welcomed the shift of policy whereby the move from the current historic basis of paying support to one based on area payments was more gradual, with a target of a 60 per cent move by 2019 reducing winners and losers.

This slower changeover, promoted heavily by the Irish, would improve stability, he claimed.