News that Europe has reached a headline agreement on reform of the Common Agricultural Policy will see the focus now shift to identifying how the proposals will be introduced at a Scottish level in 2015.
The CAP delivers between £550 and £650 million to the Scottish food and farming sectors annually, underpinning the production of safe, affordable food and securing significant economic and environmental benefits.
With the CAP having been in place in Europe for more than 50 years, this latest reform comes against a backdrop of significant economic pressure across Europe. Budgetary agreements are still to be ratified but are likely to mean that funds available to support Scottish farmers directly or to promote rural development measures through this package will be reduced.
Since the initial reform proposals were announced in autumn 2011, NFU Scotland has worked tirelessly at Scottish, UK and European levels to ensure priorities for Scotland were recognised within the final agreement.
Many of Scotland’s initial concerns have been addressed. On first take, progress has been made on NFU Scotland’s red line issues on minimising redistribution, supporting active farmers, coupling support payments to livestock, bringing in new entrants and recognising the environmental importance of our permanent pasture.
In our arable sector, damaging greening proposals have been watered down but requirements on crop diversification and obligations on ecological focus areas may yet undermine our cropping sector.
NFU Scotland’s President Nigel Miller, who was in Luxembourg for the Council of Ministers meeting on Monday and travelled to Brussels today (Wednesday 26 June), said:
“After two years of talking, we now have a degree of certainty and, in many respects, the real work starts now. We need to quickly digest the whole package, study the final Commission text when it arrives later this year and identify the measures that will best deliver for Scottish farming and our associated industries between 2015 and 2020.
“In the past few days, a lot more flexibility has been built into the proposals. The ‘Irish tunnel’ model of partially converging payments in a region to address redistribution concerns is now an option and may be of value to existing scheme recipients in Scotland.
“Similarly, the scope for new entrants and those disadvantaged by our current system to be fully integrated into any new scheme from day one and receive top-up support will be of advantage to Scotland. It opens up the potential for a two-speed approach – new businesses moving to a new payment arrangement from day one with existing businesses entering a transition phase.
“Modelling work looking at the many permutations for delivering support to Scottish agriculture is already underway and is at the core of identifying the right scheme for Scotland.
“The option to couple some of our support payments to livestock, as we currently do via our Scottish Beef Calf Scheme, remains in place and may be an essential tool to stabilising and rebuilding our declining stock numbers.
“There’s further good news in that Scotland’s permanent grassland area can be monitored at a national or regional level. Providing our area doesn’t fall by more than 5 percent, we’ll avoid a farm level approach.”