NFU call to divert English subsidies to Scots farms

By Kevin Keane
BBC Scotland Rural Affairs correspondent

  • Published
SheepImage source, Thinkstock
Image caption,
The UK government said the current subsidy arrangements would be honoured until 2020

It's long been a cry from farmers in Scotland that more of the funding from the EU should come north of the border.

That argument is being revived at NFU Scotland's annual conference, near Perth, where members will debate the union's proposals for a post-Brexit subsidy mechanism.

A proportion of the money coming to the UK arrives only because of the high proportion of "less favoured" land in the Highlands and islands.

But the money is also shared with farmers in the rest of the UK.

Policy teams at the union have put forward a series of measures it wants the UK government to consider.

Re-assigning that funding is one of the proposals.

Joyce Campbell, a hill farmer in Sutherland, said: "All the glens, all the small crofting townships like Armadale here, anybody that's producing sheep and cattle are reliant on that subsidy to keep going.

"We spend our money with a conscience and a social conscience. That money is spent in our local shops."

In Scotland, 85% of the land mass is classed as "less favoured". The UK government has guaranteed that the current subsidy arrangements will be honoured until 2020 - even after we leave the European Union.

Image caption,
Joyce Campbell said farmers were reliant on subsidies to keep going

But after that a new policy will need to be agreed and there's no indication of what that will look like.

The NFU Scotland document, "Beyond Brexit: A Policy Framework for Scottish Agriculture", puts forward eleven suggestions for a new scheme.

It calls for support to only be available for "active farmers" rather than people who own historic subsidy rights but no longer farm the land.

The document also calls for "immediate full support" to be made available for new farmers who often struggle to break into the industry.

NFU Scotland President, Allan Bowie, said: "It sounds like a lot of money but it's about 12 days worth of the National Health Service.

"For that you get food to your shelf, to your plate, of a certain quality, a certain welfare and we look after the environment."

'Rewarding farmers'

It's not just farmers who have an interest in the future of the subsidy system. Some of the payments are for schemes that benefit our ecosystems.

The Scottish Wildlife Trust is in the middle of producing a policy document which will argue that the environment needs to be at the centre of a future subsidy system.

Senior Policy Officer Bruce Wilson said: "We now understand that land produces so much more than just commodities. It also produces a whole range of environmental goods and services.

"Flood protection is a very topical one at the moment but there's carbon sequestration, biodiversity value, tourism and recreation. A whole host of things.

"We want to see a move towards rewarding farmers for the whole range of services they produce and not just the commodities."

The Scottish Secretary David Mundell will address the conference when it debates the Brexit issues.

He will tell delegate that farmers "can look forward to a future full of opportunity".

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