The go-ahead for these two key areas of the common agricultural policy (CAP) reform came during a brief meeting with EU farm commissioner Dacian Ciolos.
The Scottish Government said that it will now seek urgent confirmation from the UK government on how much additional coupled support Scotland will be permitted to use, with 13 per cent being the amount requested by Lochhead in a recent letter to Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Owen Paterson.
Speaking immediately after the meeting, Lochhead said: “It is good news for all the hard-working farmers in Scotland that the EU have given their backing to our plan to stamp out slipper farming.
“Under our plans, land on which there is no activity will be ineligible for payments under the new CAP from 2015. It has been a priority for us to ensure that only active farmers benefit and we have worked hard to find a solution. Scottish Government officials will now work with the commission to confirm the final details.
“I am also delighted that the commissioner has given the green light to flexibility within the member state on coupled payments thereby confirming what we understood to be the case.
“The UK allowing increased coupled support in Scotland will make a huge difference to our beef farmers in particular, and I have already written to the UK government requesting that the option to increase coupled support to 13 per cent be made available to us. UK ministers have already committed to increasing our ceiling on coupled support and now we need them to come good on their promise.
“However, we must remember that giving Scotland the option to increase our coupled support will not cost the rest of the UK a penny as it only allows us greater flexibility in how we use our own budgets.
“I will be following this up urgently to get confirmation from the UK now we know the EU is on side.”
The news was also welcomed by NFU Scotland: “Getting some way of pinning down the activity side has been exactly what we’ve been looking for to ensure that the precious Pillar 1 funds go to farmers who actually contribute to the farming and food sectors,” said senior communications officer Bob Carruth.
He added that, on the coupled side, getting the green light for discussions to take place with the UK government on increasing coupled levels offered a great opportunity.
He said that although the beef sector was the first target to be addressed by this measure, a higher rate would allow additional measures which could be targeted at the rough grazing areas, a move which could help deliver considerable benefits for Scotland’s livestock sector.