Nigel Miller

New fears have emerged in Scotland that the CAP rules on activity may not be enough to prevent the continuation of so-called “slipper farming”.

NFU Scotland (NFUS) has written to the Scottish government calling for it to toughen up conditions to ensure direct support funds are reserved solely for genuine farmers rather than landowners who contribute little or nothing to production.

In a letter to rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead, the union praises the Scottish government’s robust attempts to ensure activity is rewarded and slipper farming becomes a thing of the past.

See also: Scotland’s ‘active farmer’ rule too slack

But NFUS president Nigel Miller warns that additional measures are required to prevent non-productive units drawing down direct support from the new area-based Basic Payment Scheme (BPS).

“For those that contract out land or create grazing lets on a seasonal basis while drawing down BPS and greening payments, the core obligations of farming should apply”
Nigel Miller, NFU Scotland

“At the core of implementing the new CAP in Scotland has been a focus on targeting support to active farming alone. That principle is in tune with the wishes of the Scottish farming community, as well as taxpayer and consumer interests,” Mr Miller wrote. 

“In developing new payment regions under the BPS that try to mirror agricultural activity, the Scottish government has wide industry support and backing from the union. Rewarding active producers in these payment regions is underpinned by both coupled schemes and the Scottish clause applied to land in regions 1 and3 with direct links to grazing activity.

“However, in the past 12 months, Scotland’s robust approach to activity has required modification to fit within the European Commission’s demands. That European straightjacket must not create new pathways to slipper farming on the more productive, better-quality land in payment region 1.” 

Mr Miller warned two groups of inactive players might find themselves in a position to draw down direct agricultural support and move some of the limited and diminishing budget away from productive agriculture. 

“The first category is those that can easily fit with requirements of simply maintaining region 1 land in a state that makes it suitable for agricultural production,” he said.

“This also has the potential to remove good-quality land and opportunity from would-be new entrants, expanding businesses and active production. 

“The second category is those that use areas of region 1 land to activate claims and draw down the associated direct support, but through contract or seasonal lets use others to deliver the agricultural activity.” 

NFUS has called for additional barriers to be created, including placing meaningful obligations on those that choose a maintenance approach for region 1 land.

 Mr Miller said: “Simply keeping our better land in maintenance mode rather than active production would fail to deliver for the rural economy, rural communities or the food and drink agenda. 

“Therefore, a declaration within the IACS claim for BPS and greening should be used to identify those that claim under the maintenance option.”

At the mid-term review of these CAP reforms, Mr Miller said it might be possible to move non-active region 1 land to a lower rate of support with the money saved moving to the pillar 2 budget. 

“For those that contract out land or create grazing lets on a seasonal basis while drawing down BPS and greening payments, the core obligations of farming should apply. Any and all greening and cross-compliance obligations should lie with those claiming the direct support payment,” he added.

“In addition, across all Scottish farmland, there should be obligations to maintain farm infrastructure such as fencing, livestock handling facilities, gates and buildings to recognised farm assurance standards.  This is essential to safeguard future production potential.”