Richard Lochhead indicates change of tack on capping CAP

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A MARKED softening in the Scottish Government’s attitude to capping the amount of subsidy given to any individual farmer emerged yesterday with rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead saying: “We will need to look at the whole picture on opposing this.”

He said both the UK and Scottish governments had traditionally opposed capping because it penalised large-scale farming – with Scotland and the UK having proportionately more farmers in this category than other EU countries.

However, he told a large audience at AgriScot that the public did not like the idea of very big payments going to individual farm businesses and many of the farmers he had spoken to across Scotland had acknowledged that.

Currently the CAP reform proposals suggest that a maximum annual subsidy of €300,000 (about £260,000). Loch- head pointed out that sum was after any environmental or “greening” proposals were subtracted and also after any direct labour costs involved in running the business were also taken out of the equation.

There has been talk among those who might still be affected that they could split up their businesses in order to get under the penalty threshold but Lochhead dismissed this option as only helping lawyers and accountants.

“We need to keep this in perspective and look at the whole picture. How many businesses will really be affected?” he said. A benefit of capping, he said, would be that the extra money would remain in Scotland for redistribution. “I’m not going to surrender money back to Brussels,” Lochhead said.

“All these things will have to be taken into account when deciding where to spend our negotiating capital.”

The rural affairs secretary also used the AgriScot event to announce that the Rural Priorities funding scheme would be open for applications in 2012.

Speaking at what started life as a dairy event but has branched out to encompass the whole of the farming industry, Lochhead said he would not rule out taking legislative action if there was not further progress on providing primary dairy producers with a fairer percentage of the end price for milk.