Scots farmers lay down CAP priorities

Scottish farmers have laid out their priorities for CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) reform implementation and warned that Scottish government proposals could undermine production in many sectors.

In a letter to Scottish Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead, NFU Scotland has outlined four key proposals as agreed by its board of directors.

The proposals are underpinned by a series of meetings across Scotland in the past two months, attended by more than 1500 members and a survey on CAP that has been completed by more than 1000 farmers.

The union has written to the Scottish government as it prepares its response to the ongoing consultation on CAP implementation, which closes at the end of February.

The four key priorities for the union are:

Focusing available support only on active farmers and actively farmed land;

Increasing the number of payment regions in the rough grazing area;

Scottish government must scope a managed approach to the transition of existing businesses from historic to area payments using a “Scottish” tunnel;

And refocusing limited rural development funds on measures that will create more efficient farm businesses.

The NFUS says a move to area-based support is going to create real pressures on the rural economy. This CAP reform process will leave some farm businesses looking down the barrel at significant payment reductions and with that may come a significant fall in farm output.

NFU Scotland president Nigel Miller said: “It is clear from the many farmers who have now done their sums that the core implementation programme for CAP, as outlined in the Scottish government’s current consultation, fails to provide a viable support framework for a significant part of Scottish farming. If unchanged, these proposals will exert a downward pressure on production across a number of key sectors at a time when we are looking to grow our food and drink sectors.

“Backed by members, our board of directors has agreed four priorities that can refocus the new CAP support package to safeguard businesses and production. Our package is for all sectors and all regions, it lifts budget efficiency and supports activity.

“The consultation is nearing a close. It is important that in the remaining days we step up efforts to develop a package that is tuned to Scottish farming and protects our ability to produce.

“First, focusing support only on active farmers and actively farmed land is a shared goal. It is fundamental to the responsible use of public money and key to optimising area support levels in Scotland.

“The so-called Scottish clause appears unable to deliver a barrier that can exclude inactive land through a requirement for minimum stocking. As an alternative, we propose a suite of measures for consideration. These include a more aggressive negative list, economic tests to define agricultural activity and limiting the allocation of new entitlements in 2015 to the number claimed in 2013.

“Secondly, the single area payment approach to the rough grazing region (RGR), as proposed by the Scottish government, is fundamentally flawed and risks production, communities and infrastructure in our largest and most fragile payment region. Any single payment rate is inevitably going to over compensate very low intensity areas. In stark contrast, the more intensively stocked hills will be subject to heavy cuts in support that are likely to trigger accelerated de-stocking.

“More targeting through at least two payment regions in Scotland’s hills is essential to focus the appropriate levels of support to different farm businesses, and to use Scotland’s limited funds more efficiently.

“Farm-based case studies from several regions demonstrate that there are extreme gaps in the support of heavily stocked rough grazing farms with losses of well over 50 percent of support. These productive units must have access to an appeal system to allow land to be re-classified as permanent pasture where appropriate.

“Thirdly, established businesses will continue to be the basis of Scottish production in 2015 and beyond. Their level of activity is key to the wider rural economy, jobs and food processing but cuts in direct support to these businesses of 20 percent, and in many cases significantly more, are likely to trigger a refocusing of production strategies.

“Transition management is crucial. The Scottish government’s proposed transition plan will push many established productive farm businesses over a cliff to area-based payments in 2019, and without a safety net. A Scottish tunnel, however, could provide Scotland with managed transition and the option for the Scottish government to select a fast or slow route once the impact of a 60 percent or 70 percent move to area-based payments is achieved.

“Fourthly, Scottish agriculture can contribute to climate change targets and the rural and wider economy through more imaginative Pillar 2 measures focusing on efficiency. There is an opportunity to move the rural development emphasis away from woodland expansion as our simple solution to climate change challenges, and towards a more innovative and carbon efficient agriculture through SRDP options focused on farming enterprises.

“The Scottish government’s commitment to the new generation of farmers excluded from historical support has the wholehearted support of NFU Scotland. Bringing new entrant businesses that farm without entitlements, or with partial or low value entitlements, to full area support in 2015 is an important step.”