Draconian penalties for farmers who accidentally breach subsidy rules should be replaced with a “yellow card” warning system, say Scottish farm leaders.
Instead of facing “disproportionate” penalties for minor breaches, farmers should be given time to rectify unintentional errors, said NFU Scotland.
Removing or easing overzealous legislation would significantly lighten the regulatory burden on Scotland’s farmers and crofters.
Various pieces of legislation should be removed or improved after the UK left the European Union – and before a new agricultural policy was implemented, the union added.
NFU Scotland’s priorities for changes to farm legislation post-Brexit are outlined in a document launched by the union on Tuesday (19 September).
NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick said: “A long-standing objective of NFU Scotland is to reduce the regulatory burden under which Scottish farmers and crofters currently operate.
“Delivering changes that make a meaningful difference to bureaucracy or the fear of inspection and penalties at farm level has been frustratingly difficult to achieve.”
The document’s recommendations include a call for greater proportionality in penalties, mapping and record-keeping requirements.
The so-called ‘three-crop rule’ – which requires Scottish farmers to grow three different crops if they want to secure the greening element of support – should be scrapped, said the document.
Doing so would end a blunt EU requirement that does little for the environment and restricts farmers’ ability to grow for real markets.
The document also called for decisions on legislation based on risk rather than hazard.
On risk-based legislation, sheep producers should be required to individually tag animals with electronic identification only when they leave the holding of birth, it said.
A more common sense approach to rules would benefit farmers and crofters as well as officials currently charged with enforcing complex and confusing regulations, the document stated.
Mr McCornick said: “Brexit must allow us to replace elements of EU agricultural regulation that are bureaucratic, ineffective or ill-tailored to farming conditions in the UK and Scotland.
“I firmly believe that elements can be redesigned or implemented in a better way.”
Regulation should always be appropriate, proportionate, evidence-based and as light-touch as possible, he added.
A successful approach to delivering regulation involving “more carrot and less stick” would encourage farmers to provide a safe and affordable supply of food.