NFU Scotland gives cautious welcome to latest CAP plans

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NFU Scotland has given a guarded welcome to proposed amendments to the European Commission’s proposals for reform of the Common Agricultural Policy tabled by the European Parliament’s agricultural committee.

As reported in The Scotsman yesterday, the committee has reduced a record number of 7,500 amendments put forward by MEPs to just 100, which is helping to take the debate in the right direction and recognising some of Scotland’s major objections to the commission’s proposals.

In particular, the union has welcomed recognition of the difficulties of moving from the present historic basis of determining single farm payment to an area-based system and the need to ensure that the commission’s greening proposals can be adapted to suit individual farm businesses.

“The amendments take some major aspects of the reforms in a better direction and there is real recognition of the difficulties of moving to an area based system,” said chief executive Scott Walker. “For the first time, EU decision makers have set down in writing an acceptance that the move to a single regional payment rate will not have to be completed by 2019.

“This will help ensure that Scotland can adopt the new scheme gradually without jeopardising production levels while a national reserve can be created for new entrants and those farmers who have been disadvantaged by the historic payment system.”

NFU Scotland’s stance on greening, Walker claims, is gaining ground, with a proposal to take permanent grassland into account at a national rather than farm level and greater flexibility on crop diversification.

The committee wants the commission’s proposal that all farms over 50ha should be required to set aside 7 per cent of land as a so-called ecological focus area (EFA) to maintain biodiversity to be reduced to 5 per cent. The union is calling for the proposal that all farms should grow at least three crops to be reduced to two, with winter and spring crops counted as separate crops, as well as uncultivated and managed permanent grassland.

The union also wants existing agri-environmental and climate change programmes to count towards a farm’s greening activity. “With 30 per cent of the future CAP Pillar 1 budget hinging on the need to introduce environmental elements to direct support payments, we have to accept the concept of greening,” said Walker.

“Greening is increasingly viewed as the means of preserving direct payments to farmers in the long term and preventing the rapid switching of funds into competitive components of rural development programmes.”

However, Walker emphasises that the failure of heads of state to agree an overall budget still “ hangs heavily” over the negotiations and that the parliament is only one of three parties, along with the commission and the council of farm ministers representing the 27 member states, that will determine the final outcome.

Walker and his president, Nigel Miller, will be embarking on a hectic round of regional meetings in January to spell out the implications of the CAP reform options to the union’s 7,500 members.