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Timescale for agri-environment scheme bids ‘too tight’

Allan Bowie
Allan Bowie

The Scottish Government has been urged to widen the application window for agri-environment schemes under the new Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP).

The newly elected president of NFU Scotland, Allan Bowie, has written to the farm minister, Richard Lochhead, urging him to broaden the current application, which lies between March 16 and May 29.

According to the union, Scottish farmers and crofters will struggle to complete their applications to the SRDP Agri-Environment Climate Scheme (AECS) because during this period they will also be trying to fill out their applications for the new Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) which closes on May 15.

Mr Bowie has pressed government to continually assess AEC Scheme applications, rather than limit the application to a three-month application window.

In his letter, Mr Bowie said many details of the new SRDP were not long announced, while many more were awaiting further information.

He warned due to tight timescales and lack of clarity, farmers and their advisors were at risk of being unable to submit AECS applications on time, or to an adequate standard.

“I am aware of the resource and policy pressures that are being experienced by Scottish Government staff at present, but I believe that continuous assessment of AECS applications would be the best way to ensure investment in the rural economy, for the benefit of the environment, is delivered this year and through the life the 2014-2020 SRDP,” added Mr Bowie.

“That is why I have urged Richard Lochhead to reconsider.”

In response, a Scottish Government spokesman said the original application window for AECS had been January to March, but negotiations had resulted in it moving to later in the spring.

“We fully understand NFU Scotland’s wish to extend the application window further, as we share the same desire for high quality applications to come forward, and we understand the competing pressures on farmers, crofters and agents who need to submit applications for direct payments under Pillar 1,” added the spokesman.

“However, due to the time required to process AECS applications, alongside the processing of direct payments under Pillar 1, which provide lifeline support to our farming industry, extending the application window even further is no longer realistic or achievable if we are to assess applications and award contracts in good time.”

He said the government hoped to return to its original aim of seeking AECS applications at a different time of the year from 2016 onwards.

Letter, Page 11

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