Concerns are growing within the farming industry that the details of changes to greening measures – which the industry had hoped would be implemented for this season but which were postponed to come into effect in 2018 – might even struggle to be finalised before next year’s cropping plans are drawn up.
Announcing the proposals at NFU Scotland’s annual general meeting last month, rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing said that they were designed to ensure that, while greening measures were effective for the environment, they did not introduce a disproportionate burden to farmers.
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However, it has emerged that the details of the proposed changes – which include allowing hedges to count as a separate form of environmental focus area (EFA), allowing supported agro-forestry on temporary grassland to count as EFA and a shortening of the period during which drainage work is prohibited on EFA fallow – have yet to be clarified.
It is believed that before farmers are given the go-ahead, the proposals have been lodged with the group chaired by Professor Russel Griggs – which is carrying out a wider ranging review of greening measures in Scotland – for comment on the fine print.
The European Commission’s Simplification Review of greening, proposed by Phil Hogan and due for release next month, will also be scrutinised by the group before any changes are implemented.
And, reacting to the news that the group is unlikely to report back until summer, NFU Scotland has made an urgent call for the details to be released in plenty of time to plan for for the sowing of 2018 crops which will begin in August.
“Growers need to get the details of these changes as soon as possible,” said the union’s chief executive, Scott Walker.
“Farmers have to draw up their plans well in advance – and if they don’t know the fine print of the changes then producers won’t be able to benefit from them for yet another year.”
Walker said that while the union had “huge faith” in the Griggs group and the wider work it was doing looking at the wider issues of greening, the “summer” deadline could be too late.
“What constitutes ‘summer’ is open to debate – but we need to get the details of the changes out as soon as possible in order to get practical solutions organised in time for the industry to make full use of the changes for 2018,” said Walker.