SCOTLAND yesterday took its first tentative step towards future farm support being paid on an area basis compared with the current system with its deep roots in production.
Speaking at a “stakeholders’ workshop” in Edinburgh, cabinet secretary Richard Lochhead admitted this radical shift would be neither easy nor without a redistribution of subsidies.
He stated that the country was approaching a time when the cold light of day would reveal the extent of those who would gain financially in the policy shift as well as those who would receive less support.
Just how significant the common agricultural policy (CAP)budget would be for Scottish farmers remained to be seen with the division within the UK still to be negotiated but Lochhead said he would be arguing for fairness and that meant Scottish farmers should receive a rise in their direct payments.
“It can’t be right for farmers in Scotland to get lower payments than their counterparts south of the Border, or in Wales or Northern Ireland, on similar land,” he said.
NFU Scotland president Nigel Miller agreed on the need to level support within the UK. “It is clear that the EU’s intention is an average payment of €196 (£167) per hectare across the EU by 2020,” he said. “Scotland is long short of this and it is imperative that this target is delivered through internal convergence of UK regional budgets.”
On the plans that will set the new area-based policy in place, Lochhead had two priorities: “The first is that we must end the scandal of slipper farming.”
He promised that all those currently receiving support with only land rental and no production, ensuring subsidy payment, would be struck off as from the first day of January 2015 when the next CAP comes into being.
“By taking funding away from slipper farmers, we can give some extra help to genuine hill farmers without taking support from the lowlands,” he said. “Support for real, active farmers, working hard to eke out a living in tough places, and delivering benefits to society.”
One issue which has helped establish the present generation of slipper farmers has been the “right” trade subsidy entitlements. Under the new CAP, this will still be permissible as to link it to the land is contrary to World Trade Organisation “green box” rules on support.
However, the director of agriculture with the Scottish Government, David Barnes, explained that there was unlikely to be the same level of trading under the new scheme. This was partly because any trade would require to be within the same payment level boundaries as well as having to meet agreed levels of active farming.
In transferring support to a land-based system, he wanted to manage the change to minimise the impact on any sector or region but he admitted the complexity of the new scheme was bound to mean some funding anomalies would be thrown up.
In the face of strong criticism from some environmental lobbyists, Lochhead said that the big challenge for government was how change was managed to ensure there was no compromise on food production.
For those coming into the industry, he said they should be able to operate on the same support footing as established farmers. He did not fully support the EU-inspired young farmers support programme, saying the national reserve was better able to cope with all new entrants.
The meeting looked at more than 30 options for land based payments and Barnes urged everyone to submit their preferred options to CAPMovingforward@scotland.gsi.gov.uk.
For their part, delegates rejected a proposal based on parishes saying it would be too complicated but there was support for a system based on historic land use and linked to productivity.