The EU Commission has called on member states to help it close the loophole which allows speculators, golf clubs and even airports to claim farm subsidies by defining the term ‘active’ farmer.
Speaking by video link from Brussels to a Scottish Agricultural College (SAC) conference in Edinburgh, commission spokesman Roger Waite insisted that it was vital to the credibility of the CAP that funds only went to active farmers in future.
However he added that while everyone understood the spirit of what the Commission was trying to do, it wasn’t easy to achieve it and also keep the lawyers happy.
“The ideal thing would be to say that in order to receive CAP direct payments it was necessary for a farmer to produce agricultural products but that may lay us open to attack under WTO rules so we are looking for another solution,” he said.
“I would totally agree with certain critics who say that the solution we have put on the table which is linked to overall income is not an ideal solution but the clear spirit of what we are trying to achieve is there so this will be one of the areas where the Commission is looking for input on how better to define the limits of an active farmer.”
David Barnes, the Scottish Government’s Deputy Director of Agriculture and Rural Development, was one such critic who told delegates that activity on the land was what was important, not the other business interests a farmer might have.
“We don’t care if the farmer has lots of other interests, that doesn’t matter. A test on non-farming income won’t solve the problem,” he said.
“A farmer should be able to get payments so long as he is farming the land. The current proposals would simply create enormous bureaucracy.”
However Mr Barnes revealed that a ‘Scottish Clause’ has been included in the latest proposals which would help the Scottish Government clamp down on so-called ‘slipper’ farmers whose rough or high land is compliant with CAP criteria because it is grazed by wild deer yet carries no domestic livestock.
He added: “Because this type of land can be in good condition the current rules don’t allow us to make it ineligible. But under the Scottish Clause – which we expect to be approved – it will in future have to meet a minimum stocking density.”
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