‘CAP reform risks driving industry over the edge’

Former NFUS president Jim Walker didn't pull any punches
Former NFUS president Jim Walker didn't pull any punches
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WITH time running out for the Scottish Government to publish its version of the next Common Agricultural Policy, a former NFU Scotland president yesterday warned the politicians about the potential demise of the industry.

Jim Walker, who in addition to running an extensive livestock farm is managing director of Argent Energy, claimed that under the proposals most beef producers would lose out with farms from Wigtownshire to Orkney dropping income of between £120 and £190 per cow.

Commercial livestock farmers could not cope with an income reduction of that scale, he claimed, and most would just reduce or sell their cattle.

Walker said aggravating that loss for commercial cattle producers was the proposal which will see big landowners gain from the move to area payments. He knew of farms in the north and west where the shift to area support would see payments equal to more than £1,000 per suckler cow with low stocking and low productive farms getting a tenfold boost in their subsidy payments.

While so-called slipper farmers, who received support for non-production in the past, would be excluded in future, Walker believed the proposed level of activity required to gain Basic Payments this time around was pitched far too low and would create what he called “postcode lottery winners” in the new scheme.

He wanted the minimum stocking density in the Rough Grazing Regions raised to “a meaningful level”. This would greatly reduce the cash going to low productive units.

In a similar vein to the call by NFU Scotland, Walker described the transition to the new scheme in one big leap as potentially disastrous.

Walker said it seemed that Cabinet secretary Richard Lochhead wanted to “drive productive agriculture in Scotland over the cliff edge in one go”.

Walker, who met Lochhead recently, added that he was deeply concerned by how much policy was being determined and driven by civil servants fearful of repercussions and financial penalties from Brussels.

One such area was the so-called “negative list” which will exclude land such as golf courses from receiving Basic Payments. Walker understood this doorway to exclusion was now in doubt because “it was too complicated and maybe open to legal challenges”.

With the announcement of the Scottish CAP to be made in the Scottish Parliament next week, a delegation of North-east farmers yesterday went to meet MSPs to raise their serious concerns over the reforms.

After the meeting, MSPs Alex Fergusson, Alex Johnstone, Tavish Scott and Alison McInnes agreed to write to the Cabinet secretary on the need for a less-rushed transition period as well as the need to split the Rough Grazing Region; both issues having previously been put forward by NFU Scotland.

The lobbying group also stressed the knock-on effect any major change in farming could have on ancillary industries in rural areas.

Regional board chairman, Roddy Catto stressed: “The decisions to be taken on how the CAP is implemented in Scotland are important not just for farmers but for everyone in the food and drinks industry.”

Action by farmers sees nitrate levels fall ahead of NVZ controls

THE Scottish Government has been urged to allow farmers to self-regulate rather than apply the costly and complex powers that come with the designation of Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZs) in Stranraer and Finavon.

The National Farmers Union Scotland made the plea after both areas, one in Dumfries and Galloway, the other in Angus, came under NVZ regulations for the first time, just as other parts of Scotland emerge from NVZ status due to falls in nitrate pollution levels in groundwater.

It said monitoring in both new areas showed that action by farmers had seen nitrate levels fall. The NFUS also called for the Lochar Moss area near Dumfries to be removed from NVZ restrictions.

NVZs were introduced in Scotland in 2002 with the aim of reducing the levels of potentially harmful nitrates in groundwater. Currently 14 per cent of Scotland is designated as an NVZ, with restrictions on nitrate use and closed periods for the application of slurry.

But following a recent assessment of the designated land in Scotland, one quarter will be removed with only the Piltanton burn at Stranraer and Finavon catchments being added. NFUS vice-president Allan Bowie said positive action on the ground was delivering results. “Imposing full NVZ restrictions on these parts would be premature,” he added.

Commenting on the Stranraer situation, dairy farmer Gary Mitchell praised self-regulation in the Piltanton burn area. “There is a downward trend in nitrate levels, a multi-million pound investment by local farmers in 43 new slurry stores, and enthusiastic uptake of the good practice encouraged by the Piltanton Burn Catchment Initiative.”