29 September 2000

Hill farming cash answers sought

By Shelley Wright

SENIOR officials from the Scottish Executive will travel to Brussels next week to try and answer in person the queries raised by the EU Commission about plans for future hill farming support.

Having already had its original scheme kicked out by the commission earlier this year, further delays at this stage are frustrating the executive and farmers alike.

The move from livestock headage payments to area aid for farmers in less favoured areas is meant to take effect nextyear.

Ross Finnie, Scotlands farm minister, accepts that the lastest delay is an unwelcome complication but remains confident that his officials will be able to answer all questions to the commissions satisfaction next week.

That would then mean the proposal could be discussed by the Star committee – the body that must give its seal of approval to all 15 member states proposals – in mid-October. Scotlands proposals were originally meant to go before the committee last week.

Questions that the executive officials will have to answer next week are mainly concerned with the compulsory agri-environment elements that must be included in any new scheme.

The commission is unhappy that the Scottish Executive is unlikely to switch any money to environment elements for the first two years, preferring instead to minimise producers losses by diverting most of the budget to safety net top-up payments. &#42