6 September 2002

Modulated funds thin on ground for Scotland

By Shelley Wright

Scotland correspondent

THE inequity of the current modulation system has been highlighted by NFU Scotland, following the announcement that only 196 farms have been successful in winning modulated funds for rural development.

Ross Finnie, Scotlands rural development minister, announced that "farmers, crofters and the environment in Scotland will benefit from conservation payments totalling £14.26m," allocated in the Rural Stewardship Scheme for 2002.

And he went on to point out that this will allow the successful applicants to manage 75,000ha (185,000 acres) of land for the benefit of the environment over the next five years.

But the union immediately pointed out that a total of 612 farmers had applied to join the scheme, spending time and money submitting their proposals, with 416 them proving unsuccessful.

The RSS is a competitive tendering system, with applicants awarded points for the various conservation and environmental improvement elements in their proposals. Money, taken from the 3% modulation on all farmers direct subsidy payments, is awarded for an initial period of five years.

"Through the scheme we are making real progress in securing agricultural management which benefits both people and nature," said Mr Finnie.

But Jim Walker, NFU Scotland president, pointed out that money had been taken from 16,000 Scottish farmers through modulation. "To then give money back to just 196 producers is absolutely calamitous.

"We have told the Scottish Executive time and time again that the Rural Stewardship Scheme is a totally blunt instrument, and the results prove it."

Particularly galling was the fact that most of the modulated funds would have been taken from arable farmers who are struggling with cereal prices at a five-year low.

The union claims the current scheme pitches farmer against farmer in the bid for limited funds. And there is no mechanism of ring-fencing modulated money to give those who contribute most an equal chance of reclaiming it through the RSS.

Mr Finnie has been discussing the management of all the agri-environment schemes with the industry in recent months. He plans to make an announcement shortly on measures which, among others, should allow more applicants to the RSS to be accepted. &#42

All farmers who submit projects that meet the aims of the RSS should be accepted, regardless of where they are, the union has argued.

A £46.67m budget would have been needed this year if all 612 farmers who submitted plans for the RSS had been successful.