The official launch of the European Commission’s suggestions for changes to future payment of less favoured areas (LFA) support has been met with protest from farm leaders in Scotland.
The industry warned of “serious disruption” if proposals to reclassify the payment of support on “biophysical” rather than socio-economic criteria were implemented.
Of Scotland’s land, 83% is deemed intermediate LFA and attracts essential funding of about £61m a year into livestock farming in these areas.
But as revealed by Farmers Weekly last week, the Commission has suggested future payments should be based on soils, drainage, climate and terrain rather than socio-economic disadvantage in order to satisfy the public that the money is being well spent.
The review follows criticism by the European Court of Auditors in 2003 that some countries were abusing the definition of “less favoured”.
Responding to the official launch of the Commission’s “communication”, NFU Scotland’s LFA committee chairman Sandy Tulloch said the proposals represented bad news for producers in the hills and uplands.
“Scotland tends not to suffer extremes, but experiences a combination of soil and climate factors which limits its productive potential,” he said.
“This must be accommodated in LFA designation. In addition, LFA payments must be allowed to continue to reflect the additional costs that are caused by socio-economic factors, such as distance to market, remoteness and low service provision.
“This aspect of designation has been lost in these new proposals and that is extremely unwelcome.
“NFU Scotland firmly believes that in Scotland the correct areas of land are already designated as LFA – but it is a closer link between LFA support payments and active livestock farming that is required to ensure the current LFA is most effective in delivering the desired objectives.
“The union does not believe that any change to the area of land classified as LFA is required.”
Member states are now being asked to draw up detailed maps of areas that meet the proposed criteria and submit them within six months. The Commission is then likely to come forward with new proposals for designating LFAs which would apply from 2013.