South Scotland

Changes to EU subsidies 'will support Scottish farmers'

Cows Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption The EU subsidy changes are aimed at making payments to farmers fairer but some say it will cost parts of the country millions of pounds

A package of changes to the Common Agricultural Policy will support Scottish farmers and improve the way EU payments are distributed, according to the Scottish government.

They include the removal of payments for so-called "slipper farmers", who do not use land for agricultural purposes.

There will also be further support for sheep farmers and beef producers.

But fears have been raised that changes to EU subsidies could cost farmers in south west Scotland £90m.

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead detailed how the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will be implemented in Scotland during a statement at Holyrood.

He told MSPs he was "under no illusions" that the package would please everyone.

Individual payments

He said: "Some farmers, who were disadvantaged under the old CAP, will finally move towards a level playing field.

"Others will see their payments go down."

The measures include:

  • Land with no agricultural activity to be removed from the payment regime.
  • Sporting estates to be excluded from receiving direct farm payments unless they can prove they are a genuine farm business.
  • Basic direct farm payments to be capped at about £400,000 a year, after labour costs, to address the issue of huge individual payments.
  • A £45m three-year beef improvement scheme and a "coupled support scheme" for sheep producers to be introduced.

A five-year transition between 2015 and 2019 for the move from historic to area-based farm payments, which is required by Europe, is also proposed.

Mr Lochhead said the Scottish government had "strained every sinew" to come up with a "production-based and sustainable agricultural policy".

He added: "Scottish agriculture underpins our rural economy and rural communities and is itself underpinned by the CAP.

"As I have always been clear, it is therefore vital that the new CAP supports farming and food production, as well as responsible land use, and strikes the right balance between flexibility and complexity.

Fuel poverty

"I am confident this is the best possible CAP package for Scotland under the circumstances, and will lay the foundations for a successful Scottish agricultural sector for years to come."

The CAP system covers farming, environmental measures and rural development, and controls EU agricultural markets.

Farmers in some parts of Scotland believe the changes could have a serious effect.

Dumfries and Galloway councillor Colin Smyth warned any reduction in funding would be "difficult to bounce back from".

He said the region already faced challenges from high youth unemployment, a low level of "higher value" jobs and fuel poverty.

Andrew McCornick, regional chairman of the National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS), said it shared concerns over the CAP reforms next year.

"Our regional economy relies heavily on agriculture which in turn engages a whole host of supply and service industry jobs whilst maintaining the region's distinctive countryside as a tourism asset," he said.

"We share the same desire to get the best possible deal from the Scottish government, in order to adapt to the coming challenges as effectively as possible, whilst minimising the detrimental effects of the many millions of pounds that will no longer enter the region's economy."

Economic impact

Conservative MSP Alex Fergusson said it was a fact that "vast amounts of money are going to be taken out of the most productive areas of Scotland."

He called on the government to "mitigate against the serious economic impact of that as these measures begin to bite."

Labour's Claire Baker welcomed the measures to tackle slipper farming and sporting estates.

She said: "The set of decisions were always going to be challenging and I appreciate how difficult it is to get the balance right.

"But the Cabinet Secretary recognised that there were calls for a quicker transition (to area-based payments), and there are concerns that 2019 is at the top end of a transaction period."

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