Growing demand for policies to bring hill farms back from brink

SCOTLAND'S hills are alive with calls for them to be put to productive use.

Early this week Tony Waterhouse of the Scottish Agricultural College called for a revival of the hill livestock industry to revitalise the rural economy.

Then Nigel Miller, NFU Scotland vice-chairman, delivered a similar call to the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors conference at Battleby near Perth.

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Miller said: "There is an extraordinary amount of hill land not being used. Landlords could be encouraged by tax incentives to let land through Limited Duration Tenancies. We have to look at these options, otherwise hill-farming will die."

Miller said the government's forestry expansion proposals were a "nightmare" which would home in on productive hill farms such as his own near Galashiels. But he conceded that a secure food policy had to co-exist with other demands on land, such as a properly planned flood management and a habitat and landscape strategy.

Looking forward, he said that sticking to the current rules on CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) reform post-2013 would be too restricting and that changes would need to be negotiated.

"I noted with interest Brian Pack's comments in Brussels last week when he suggested that 15 per cent of the SFP (Single Farm Payment] pot should be linked to activity." However he criticised the Pack Inquiry for "ignoring the big issue" – the size of the CAP budget. As for a switch to an area-based system in 2013 as proposed by Pack, he described it as being like "falling off a cliff".

"There must be a transition and it may be best to rebase the support system before 2013," he added. Speaking at the same event, John Scott MSP, deputy convener of the rural affairs and environment committee at Holyrood, accepted the need to rebase the historical system, using 2009 figures from 2013 on. He also said: "I just do not see the need for a 50 per cent increase in acreage although I do acknowledge the need to lock up more carbon."

He said trees would not grow above 1,300ft in Scotland, while use of peatland would create more pollution than it would absorb. "That only leaves mineral soils below 1300ft and that is exactly the land that can produce food efficiently. "