Management restrictions to nitrogen-fixing crops will limit the positive role they could play in Scotland under Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) greening rules and place growers at a disadvantage to those south of the border, the head of NFU Scotland has warned.
NFUS president and Fife farmer Allan Bowie said he discovered stark differences that “greening” rules were having south of the Border when he visited the Cereals event last week.
He saw first-hand how the English interpretation of greening requirements within the new CAP means changes to Scottish rules for 2016 are an “absolute necessity” to support the efficiency and competitiveness of Scottish growers.
Under EU CAP regulations, which came into force on 1 January 2015, farmers with more than 15ha of arable land must devote at least 5% to an ecological focus area (EFA), known as “greening”.
Farmers have the option of growing nitrogen-fixing crops, such as peas and beans, as one of many ways to meet greening obligations under the reformed CAP.
But NFU Scotland said the Scottish government’s decision to impose management restrictions on growing these crops means Scottish growers could lose out financially.
For example, the Scottish government is going to require those considering nitrogen-fixing crops to plant two different crops in each EFA, harvest those crops after 1 August each year and maintain field margins around them.
“Under greening review, we need a reality check for 2016 and I hope those people currently assessing the impacts will look across the border and take on board the benefits there.”
The restrictions means growing nitrogen-fixing crops as part of the EFA requirement is “no longer a viable EFA option”, NFUS has said.
Writing on his president’s blog on Friday (12 June), Mr Bowie said: “Driving from the airport to the Cereals event – a journey of about 60 miles – I don’t think I saw one bare fallow field!
“Plenty of cereals, peas, beans, oilseed rape and grass with many field margins sown in wildflower mixtures.
“The reason being that England did not impose additional requirements on nitrogen-fixing crops in its ecological focus areas option and took full advantage of the flexibility available under existing legislation to make full use of the conversion factors for field margins and buffer strips.
“When I speak to English farmers about this, they are happy to explain the environmental benefits of their system, the buy-in from wildlife organisations and the need for proactive conservation while still being efficient, productive and competitive producers.
“They also understood our farming systems, how little intensive land we have in Scotland and how much greener we already are than them.”
Mr Bowie accused the Scottish government of harbouring a “crazy, flawed policy” on greening, especially at a time when it was aiming to increase food and drink targets in future.
“This serious policy flaw is not the fault of the EU or Westminster but our own government. Under greening review, we need a reality check for 2016 and I hope those people currently assessing the impacts will look across the border and take on board the benefits there.”
However, Scottish rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead has repeatedly defended the Scottish government’s decision to impose management restrictions on growing nitrogen-fixing crops to meet the EFA requirement.
In an open letter on greening issues last October, Mr Lochhead said Scotland had a “moral obligation” to protect and enhance its green and natural environment.
“I am keen to ensure that biodiversity benefits are compatible with crop production,” he added.