Farming: Slippers set to be ditched

Richard Lochhead: 'Full frontal assault on inactivity' promised. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Richard Lochhead: 'Full frontal assault on inactivity' promised. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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A DETERMINATION that those wearing dirty wellies rather than comfy slippers will be the recipients of EU support under the reformed common agricultural policy (CAP) was yesterday restated by rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead.

Promising a “full-frontal assault on inactivity” in his address at the NFU Scotland’s agm in St Andrews, Lochhead said he was confident that the Scottish Government now had a set of proposals which would allow payments to be made only to active farmers which would be acceptable to the European Commission.

The search for a formula had been on-going since the Commission disallowed proposals for the use of stocking densities as a yardstick of activity in November last year. The cabinet secretary said he would be taking the proposals to the council meeting in Brussels next week in order to ensure that they met with approval.

Speaking later, he said that the measures currently consisted of several options which could be used depending on exactly which legal categories the commission required to be fulfilled.

Lochhead also said that he would be pushing the commission to give the Scottish Government the go-ahead to enter into negotiations with the UK government which could see the ceiling for coupled support aimed at helping the beef and livestock sectors increased from 8 per cent to 13 per cent.

Clearly somewhat bemused by the revelation on Monday by UK farm minster George Eustice that the onus was on the Scottish Government to get this clearance for what was a UK matter, he said he would be seeking to get the go-ahead for this next week as well.

Away from the CAP, Lochhead said that he was determined to do more to allow the tenant sector to fulfil its potential. “Solutions might range from industry-led initiatives to new laws”, said Lochhead, “But I will not shy away from taking radical action where necessary.”

He said that the current review should be completed by this autumn and initiatives would be put in place shortly after that. However, he admitted that any moves which required changes to primary legislation would need to find a slot in the agenda for the Scottish Parliament to discuss it – and his favoured route of giving fiscal incentives to make letting land more attractive would probably have to wait until Scotland had its own tax-raising powers.

In response to a call from the floor to look into providing support for malting facilities –which would help both Scottish barley growers and the drinks trade – Lochhead said that discussions between his officials and maltsters were set to take place shortly.

l Lochhead also announced that a one-stop-shop providing information, training and advice for dairy farmers would soon be ready for business. He said that the Scottish Dairy Bureau had been set up with a full time manager. £50,000 funding for the project which would open on 1 April had been provided.