NFUS blasts Holyrood's '˜gold-plated' greening rules

Despite a long-running campaign by NFU Scotland, the Scottish Government continues to demand greening requirements which go well beyond what is required at EU level, it was claimed this week.

NFUS president Allan Bowie said securing changes to the greening rules had been a 'long, hard slog'. Picture: Paul Watt

And, in what could be viewed as a rehearsal for post-Brexit farm policy discussions, the union has warned that such environmental “gold-plating” puts Scottish producers at a huge competitive disadvantage.

Revealing that it was seeking fresh talks with the Scottish Government over greening rules which impact on the arable sector, the union said it had mapped out a list of “smart” changes to these regulations which would offer agronomic and environmental benefits.

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Claiming that these measures would meet European requirements and bring the restrictions placed on Scottish growers into line with farmers elsewhere, the union said it wanted to see cabinet secretary Fergus Ewing deliver on his promise to encourage the rural economy.

The union said it had also invited environment, climate change and land reform secretary Roseanna Cunningham to visit an arable farm in the new year to view the many environmental benefits farming can offer – but also to highlight the negative impacts of “gold-plated greening”.

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“The union remains resolutely committed to seeking changes within current greening requirements that address both Scottish Government gold-plating and the simplification agenda in Brussels,” said union president Allan Bowie.

He said that, despite a huge lobbying effort, securing changes to Scotland’s interpretation of greening rules had been a “long, hard slog”.

“After eight months of claiming that it was acting in accordance with EU rules, the Scottish Government finally conceded in February 2016 that its requirement for EFA green cover to be incorporated into the soil was home-grown gold-plating. Faced with overwhelming evidence of the environmental benefits of no-till and minimum tillage systems, the requirement was finally dropped.

“On EFA fallow, we have written to Fergus Ewing and shown him first hand on farm how removal of gold-plating would benefit Scottish growers and still fit with the European Commission’s simplification plans for greening.”

Bowie said that a recent letter from the European Union had confirmed that farmers could use mechanical methods to control weeds and conduct drainage work during the fallow period: “Given flooding issues and significant weed problems, these would have been hugely beneficial to Scottish growers.”

Bowie said that such “common-sense” changes would bring the Scottish rules into line with those used south of the Border.

Looking beyond Brexit, Bowie said that the union had been putting down markers on the sort of appropriate environmental requirements which might be attached to future agricultural support.