The Scottish Government has finally announced further details of how new greening measures will be implemented as part of Common Agricultural Policy (Cap) reform.
After months of waiting, Scottish growers have been given further information on management rules for Ecological Focus Area (EFA) buffer strips and nitrogen fixing crops.
However, the guidelines were met with disappointment by NFU Scotland which warned they were limiting farmers’ greening options.
The union’s president Nigel Miller said the management measures made nitrogen fixing crops as an EFA a “non-starter on many farms”.
The industry has been at a standstill for months waiting for details, with farmers in many parts of the country going ahead with planting next season’s crops without knowing the full details of the rules.
Under the greening rules, which account for around 30% of direct farm payments, farmers with more than 37 acres of arable must set aside 5% for EFAs.
Last month, the government confirmed the EFA options, along with weighting factors for each, which were available to Scots farmers.
Farmers can use: land lying fallow at a weighting factor of 1; catch crops at a weighting factor of 0.3; nitrogen fixing crops at a weighting of 0.7; and field margins and buffer strips along water courses at a weighting factor of 1.5.
The further management details stipulate that cutting but not grazing will be permitted on EFA buffer strips.
For growers that opt for nitrogen fixing crops, the government has confirmed that these cannot be harvest before August 1 in order to protect ground-nesting birds, and that they must be surrounded by an EFA field margin when grown next to the edge of a field.
The government last night also said nitrogen fixing crops would only be permitted as an EFA if “there are two different nitrogen fixing crops on the EFA area, to extend the flowering period for pollinators, with the main crop covering no more than 75% of the total area of nitrogen fixing crop declared as EFA”.
Farm minister Richard Lochhead said further guidance, although not all, was available on the Scottish Government’s website.
“However, it will not answer all farmers’ questions because we, like other administrations, are still lacking crucial clarity from Europe on a number of aspects,” added Mr Lochhead.
He said the government was only publishing guidance once it was sure it was correct, hence the drip approach to releasing information.
NFU Scotland president Nigel Miller said the management rules surrounding the use of nitrogen fixing crops as an EFA would be met with “deep disappointment” by farmers and made the option no longer viable for many growers.
In England, in contrast, farmers have been told they can grow nitrogen fixing crops without any management restrictions other than meeting Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions (GAEC) requirements.
Mr Miller added: “Unfortunately, nitrogen fixing crops is only greening issue on which we were awaiting clarity.
“With Scottish farmers having to second guess what all the final greening rules will be, planting decisions cannot be completed until Scottish Government makes all the information available.”