Flexibility is essential to protect farm payments

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With farmers in the less favoured areas of Scotland expected to receive their support payments later this month, NFU Scotland yesterday called for more flexibility in payment to be built into the next Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) scheme.

The less favoured area support scheme (LFASS) payments, which deliver more than £60 million to livestock farmers in Scotland’s hills and uplands every spring, is often seen as helping producers get through the expensive winter period.

However, the union is worried that the complex nature of any new support system to emerge from current CAP reform negotiations might have the potential to delay payment runs in the future. It wanted a system that would allow producers to receive an advance payment.

Union president Nigel Miller said that, for many Scottish farmers and crofters, LFASS support could not come quickly enough as the 2012 weather had seen greater expenditure on feeding and bedding, as well as poorer returns for lambs.

“We recognise that Scottish Government has clear obligations to meet on completing inspection requirements before LFASS funds can be released and that it is open to EU audit on that process,” he said.

“In addition, meeting payment deadlines requires an appropriate level of staff and resources that may not always be available to the Scottish Government’s rural payments and inspections directorate (SGRPID).”

Miller was hopeful that with the relatively mild winter weather, there should have been little to delay the necessary livestock inspections from being completed.

“If anything, slippage in timing of the LFASS payment run to later in March simply underlines our view that we need new arrangements for payment schemes that allow, if necessary, advance payments to be made.”

An advance payment system for the new CAP that could ensure cash flow on to Scottish farms in December of each scheme year could be hugely important, he added.

Looking forward, Miller said that there would be a hiatus between Scotland’s existing rural development plan and the next, so the current LFASS scheme had to roll over in its current form until farms had adjusted to the new single farm payment system and the next Scotland rural development programme was in place.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said, “We fully understand the importance of all support payments for Scotland’s farmers and the need to pay these as promptly as possible.”

She denied this year’s payments would be late, saying they were being made at the same time as last year.

“The Scottish Government has increased LFASS payment rates in some areas by 38 per cent since 2009 and this year we will pay out nearly £10m more in these payments than we did in 2009.

“Meanwhile, we are working hard to secure a CAP reform deal that is fair, flexible and not unnecessarily bureaucratic because – as the NFUS has recognised – introducing complexity into future arrangements could result in delays to payments.”