The new era of Common Agricultural Policy (Cap) support in Scotland must put an end to slipper farming once and for all and prevent the creation of a new generation of low-intensity farmers, says NFU Scotland.
President Nigel Miller yesterday said some “pretty difficult balancing” is needed to ensure all sectors get the best deal out of the new Cap.
He admitted all sectors were likely to “feel the pain” as a result of significant budget cuts – arable farmers, for example, are set to lose about 27% in support – and the challenge of redistributing funds.
The union said decisions made by the Scottish Government on the implementation of Pillar 1 direct support – a consultation garnering views on this ended on Friday – would be its legacy for years to come.
Mr Miller condemned the ongoing uncertainty around key areas such as coupled payments – the Scottish Government is awaiting clarification from Westminster on whether or not it can increase the proportion of its budget used for coupled support from 8% to 13%
He said: “There has been plenty of time to get these details firmed up, and to still be in this position when we are right in the twenty-third hour of trying to sort things out is pretty destructive.”
He said the Union was meeting with Defra secretary Owen Paterson this week and he hoped a decision would be made on coupled support allowance in the next ten days.
Presenting its response to the Scottish Government’s consultation, NFU Scotland said the new Cap must focus on ending the blight of slipper farmers.
“Nobody wants to see slipper farming being a feature going forward,” said Mr Miller.
“We have to exclude inactive claimants on inactive land and target fairly brutally to get the money in the right place.”
He warned against a new era of slipper farmers – low-intensity farming – which may emerge as a result of claimants controlling large swaths of land where very little agricultural activity is taking place.
The union called on the Scottish Government to adopt a fairly hard-line approach to this, backed up by an appeals system for any active farmers wrongly caught out.
NFU Scotland also called for a mandatory national reserve to support new entrants who have been in the system since as far back as 1999, but receiving no subsidy support whatsoever.
“We have a real determination to sort out the injustices of the historic system,” said Mr Miller.
“There’s now an opportunity to give them a more balanced share of the budget.”
The union said it supported the Scottish Government’s proposed two region payments approach, but suggested a third sub-region should be created in areas of rough grazing.
Mr Miller said: “The area where we would like to see a new approach is in the rough grazing area where there are such extreme differences in land use and intensity.
“We think that a single area payment in that region is inappropriate and destructive. “
NFU Scotland called for the full 8% of coupled support to go to the beef sector, with the extra 5% currently being sought by the Scottish Government used to support sheep farmers and further boost beef production in areas of rough grazing and the islands.
Mr Miller warned many Scots farm businesses would not survive any delay to farm payments.