Nigel Miller hails ‘constructive’ first talks with minister

National Farming Union of Scotland leaders emerged last night in a positive mood after their first face-to-face meeting with David Heath MP, the UK government minister of state for agriculture and food.

The union has been attempting to meet Heath and his boss at the department of the environment, food and rural affairs (Defra), the Secretary of State Owen Paterson, since they were appointed last autumn and yesterday was the first occasion Heath had come to Scotland.

Speaking after the meeting, union president Nigel Miller described the talks as “constructive”.

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And he stressed the areas of agreement with the minister, which included support for active farmers and the targeting of money into the areas and sectors of most need.

Miller continued: “There was also common ground on the EU Commission’s proposals to ‘green’ direct support payments, a concept which is moving in the right direction with the EU Parliament’s amendments.”

The union also took the opportunity to reiterate their views on the importance of ensuring that new entrants and anomaly cases were supported from day one of the new CAP.

The talks also emphasised the importance of the EU budget and the need to ensure a fair deal for Scotland, whose farm support payments are currently well below the EU average.

Miller said: “We emphasised Scotland’s particular needs under the next CAP, especially the possibility of using options to couple payments and the importance of areas of natural constraint payments, which are the modified successor to our critical less favoured areas support scheme.”

Next week, Paterson will speak for the first time in Scotland at the union’s annual meeting in St Andrews.

Meanwhile, more than 400 farmers from right across Europe united in Brussels yesterday to approve a major declaration calling for a strong Common Agricultural Policy backed by a strong EU budget.

Speakers said that any budget cuts would threaten food security and growth and employment in EU rural areas and they called for a decision to be made on the EU budget this weekend “to end the uncertainty currently facing farmers”.

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The president of the farming unions’ European body, Gerd Sonnleitner, said: “The current CAP costs less than 1 per cent of the total EU public expenditure. In return it provides the EU’s 500 million citizens with huge benefits.

“It provides consumers with a choice of safe, secure, quality food supplies at affordable prices and ensures employment for 26 million people on farms and ten million in related sectors mostly in the EU rural areas.”

He also pointed out that farmers helped ensure an attractive countryside but they and their colleagues throughout the world faced huge challenges.

The vice-president of the agricultural cooperatives in Europe, Antónia Figueiredo, focussed on rising input costs which barely covered market prices and which were hitting farmers and agri-co-operatives hard.

“Market volatility is also one of the biggest ones confronting them at the moment as well as unfair, unbalanced and abusive practices in the food chain,” she said.

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