MEPs produce ‘mixed bag’ of CAP reform

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Scottish farming leaders and politicians described the final set of proposals for the next common agricultural policy (CAP) coming out of the European Parliament yesterday as a mixed bag with some good policies and some less suited to Scotland.

Cautiously, because much of the detail from the two-and-a-half hour plenary session still had to be analysed, NFU Scotland chief executive Scott Walker welcomed the flexibility on coupling payments to specific sectors and also the watering down but “sadly not removing” the requirements of environmental focus areas (EFA).

He said: “Hopes that the European Parliament would accept sheep electronic identification being removed from cross-compliance requirements appear to have been dashed.”

George Lyon MEP also regretted much of the flexibility in the greening proposals had been lost but still thought it was good news the EFAs would only be introduced at 3.5 per cent in the first year and, after a rise to 5 per cent the following year, a review of their effectiveness would take place before any rise to the originally planned 7 per cent.

Lyon did think the best news for Scottish farmers was the length of time the government would now have to change from the current historic basis of payments to the new acreage system. This could even extend beyond the 2020 end of the incoming CAP. He added the government would also have flexibility in the number of regions it created for area payments.

His fellow MEP Alyn Smith welcomed the official postponement for two years of the reform of less favoured areas. This delay would, he said, allow time for adequate data to be collected upon which discussions and decisions could be based.

He was, however, frustrated by the passing of proposals on risk management on crop insurance and an income stabilisation tool to “hedge” farmers’ income against market fluctuations.

“This has the potential to eat up vast sums of the rural development budget, provides a disincentive for farmers to engage in sustainable and preventative practices, and pads the profits of insurance companies.

“My silver lining is that this is a voluntary measure which is very unlikely to be taken up by DEFRA.”

The reform now goes to the agricultural council with farm ministers from all member states under the Irish presidency trying to hammer out a final version of the next CAP before the end of June.