Scots farmers seek ‘long-term vision’ – but without capping

Efforts need to be stepped up to develop a longer-term policy for Scottish agriculture, rather than just focusing on the immediate post-Brexit period, NFU Scotland has told the Scottish government.

Responding to Holyrood’s “Stability and Simplicity” consultation on future policy – which closes for comment on 7 September – NFUS president Andrew McCornick said there was too much emphasis on how things might operate during a transition period, but too little on what comes thereafter.

See also: Scots plans for capping revealed 

“The current proposals are almost exclusively focused on modifications to the existing CAP as currently delivered in Scotland, through direct support and rural development,” he said.

“We need to move quickly to the next stage and develop our own agricultural and rural policy for life beyond transition and the CAP itself.”

Consultation

The Scottish government consultation was launched on 20 June, with the aim of providing “stability, certainty and simplicity”.

Rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing said his priority in the short term was to “provide people in rural businesses with as much security as possible”.

As such, he suggested support schemes for farming and the environment should stay “largely the same” until 2024.

But, while this would mean retaining direct payments for the five-year period, he did propose a system of capping, possibly starting as low as £25,000 per farm business, while also simplifying the application and inspection processes.

Response

NFUS, in its response, is fully in favour of any simplification and a more advisory role with inspections.

But it has rejected the idea of capping as “too blunt”, even though the money could be used to pilot new, different support mechanisms.

“For those businesses that may be subject to a cap, many of which are highly productive, employ people and spend significant amounts on inputs, the loss of that element of support could lead to something quite different to ‘stability’,” says the NFUS document.

It suggests a more “progressive” system, and points to its “Steps to Change” paper,  which proposes “redirecting funding within an individual agricultural business – from financial stability to productivity and environmental measures – without reducing the total amount of support going to that business”.

NFUS is, however, welcoming of the Scottish government’s plan to stick with the Less Favoured Area Support Scheme (LFASS) for 2019 and 2020, rather than switching to an Area of Natural Constraint scheme, which would lead to a significant redistribution of support.

But it opposes the idea of cutting payments to 80% and 20% of current levels in those two years, as proposed by the Scottish government, and says it will work to find ways of topping up payments through other routes.

Key elements of NFU Scotland response to ‘Stability and Simplicity’

  • It is essential all processes are kept simple and accessible for all claimants
  • The current CAP system should continue for 2018-19 and 2019-20
  • Inspections and compliance should be less tied to specific dates in the calendar
  • The purpose of inspections should be to demonstrate compliance, not to find fault
  • Greening should be abandoned, as it does not deliver for the environment
  • Capping is too blunt a tool and will hit productive businesses unfairly
  • Upland farmers should have any direct payments protected if LFASS money is cut
  • A five-year transition period is too specific; there needs to be flexibility
  • New entrants and young farmers must be fully supported during a transition period
  • There should be a greater role for a national advisory service
  • The principles of the Beef Efficiency Scheme (to improve genetics) should be extended to other sectors
  • New entrant start-up grants should continue beyond 2020
  • Support for farmers should move from an area basis to one based on actively farmed hectares
  • Future support should be based on three components – financial stability, productivity and environment 
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