Environmental policies in the reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) risk putting almost one in 10 farms in the Scottish Highlands out of agricultural production, according to a survey.
That was the key finding in a joint study by NFU Scotland and Cairngorm National Park Authority (CNP), which discovered that greening proposals could force some farmers in the area to cease agricultural production altogether.
The CAP Greening Impact Survey looked at 35 farms in and near the national park. It examined the likely effects of the proposals relating to cropping, grassland and ecological focus areas.
All the farmers questioned reported there would be a financial impact to their business, with 9% saying they would be forced to go out of business altogether.
Almost three-quarters of those surveyed anticipated that greening would have an adverse environmental impact and half felt it would have a negative effect on biodiversity.
The vast majority of farmers surveyed said they undertook some level of arable cropping, but the potential impact of greening would see a quarter stop cropping altogether.
NFUS president Nigel Miller said Scotland's farmers were concerned that the EU Commission's intentions to make Pillar 1 of the CAP more environmentally friendly were too prescriptive and would be detrimental to the country's farmed environment and farm businesses.
"This study, while over a relatively small geographical area, encompassed a representative sample of Scottish LFA farms. It proves how the three-crop rule would limit farming options, lead to compliance problems and fail to deliver the environmental gain it is designed to provide," he added.
"Given that the study has been completed in an area that is already rich in environmental attributes brought about by current farming practices, it highlights clearly the counterproductive nature of the greening proposals on many Scottish farms."
However, the survey showed that Highland farmers were not against environmental policies per se, but believed they could deliver on agri-environment targets by establishing an extensive list of measures around biodiversity, climate change, efficiency and animal health.
"Greening measures are unpopular across the whole of the EU and, as we approach negotiations on how they should be amended, this study also provides a useful menu of alternative options that may be of interest to fellow member states," said Mr Miller.
NFUS and CNPA will use the findings of the survey to oppose current proposals for the CAP, which will be debated in the European Parliament later this autumn.
Earlier this month, European politicians lodged 7,000 amendments to CAP reform proposals, casting further doubt on whether Brussels' aim of a simpler, cheaper, greener policy could be achieved by the proposed start date of 1 January, 2014.
Philip Case on G+
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