Slipper farmers ‘blight’ on Scottish agriculture

Proposals to ensure only active farmers can receive funding under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) have been unveiled by the Scottish government.

Under the plans, farmers would have to keep livestock at an appropriate level linked to the carrying capacity of their land, or demonstrate significant active efforts every year to maintain agricultural land in good condition.

The proposals to tackle so-called “slipper farming”, which the Scottish government is confident meets European Union (EU) and World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, were shared with industry groups at a meeting on Wednesday (5 February).

They aim to ensure that only farmers or landowners who are actively farming their own land will qualify to receive single farm payments.

Examples of significant active efforts every year to maintain agricultural land in good condition could include mowing or cutting vegetation to agreed specifications. Work to agree with stakeholders an appropriate level of farming activity has been under way for about a year.

Slipper farmers are controversial in the eyes of the general public because they exploit loopholes in the SFP system to claim millions of pounds in taxpayers’ money without actually farming the land.

See also Farmer Focus: Slipper farmers bad for public image

Scottish rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead said: “Slipper farming is a blight on Scottish agriculture and we need to take action to ensure only active farmers are supported under the new CAP.

“The issue of slipper farming is a particular concern in Scotland where we have around a million hectares of wild land where no farming activity whatsoever is taking place but could qualify for new direct payments in 2015 unless action is taken in Europe.

“We need a meaningful and workable way of implementing the Scottish clause if we are to prevent a significant dilution of payments to genuinely active farmers and a waste of millions of euros of CAP money. Clearly, reducing support for inactivity means more funding will be available for productive farmers.”

The next step would be to take the proposals of the stakeholder group to Europe “at the earliest opportunity”, added Mr Lochhead.

Last week, Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) announced plans to axe up to 10,000 non-active farmers before the new CAP reform policy is introduced by 2015.