Government’s greening measures a step too far

Further details emerged yesterday over why the European Commission had rebuffed the Scottish Government’s proposals for greening equivalence measures, which had been drawn up to give the country’s crop growers an alternative option to the current “three crop rule”.
Greening equivalence measures are under debate. Picture: John DevlinGreening equivalence measures are under debate. Picture: John Devlin
Greening equivalence measures are under debate. Picture: John Devlin

The Scottish Government had proposed that farmers should be given an additional option which would have allowed them to meet EU greening requirements by maintaining some ground cover on arable fields over winter.

It was proposed that producers could either sow catch crops or maintain stubble cover on 25 per cent of the arable area.

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The Scottish Government said that this proposal had been based on advice from environmental organisations who had told them that the ecological benefits would be equivalent to Europe’s standard crop diversification measures (the three crop rule).

However, this week the EC gave its opinion that stubble was not an acceptable form of winter soil cover – and that a new crop would need to be planted on 100 per cent of the arable area.

And although EC officials will next week be pressed to reconsider their finding by the Scottish Government – who said that it made the option “unworkable” for Scottish producers – farmers have indicated that it would be too late for the option to be adopted this year.

Controversial proposals to place additional greening measures on permanent grassland, however, could still go ahead. The moves which were first flagged up earlier this year would be aimed at encouraging producers to think about nutrient budgeting, a move which would help ensure the use of fertiliser inputs were optimised on all permanent grass, along with a reduction in wastage and overdosing.

While the call originally indicated that compulsory pH testing of soils would be required, the rural affairs Secretary, Richard Lochhead said that he had decided on a “very modest” new requirement for a permanent grassland nutrient management plan, introduced with “as light touch as possible”, after delaying the move for a year to give farmers time to prepare.

However, the proposals – which would require producers to supply details of how much inorganic fertilisers and lime they were planning to apply to grasslands – were dismissed as a “paper exercise which went beyond EU greening requirements”.

NFUS policy manager Jonnie Hall yesterday said that the union remained unequivocally opposed to the way the new requirements were being introduced.

He said the Scottish Government was using greening measures as a back-door way of meeting its own climate change targets.