NFU Scotland president Nigel Miller believes more pressure should be applied by the UK Government to Europe to simplify electronic sheep tagging for Borders farmers.
The Stow livestock farmer welcomed Caroline Spelman, the UK’s Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to his Stagehall Farm, as well as Scotland Secretary and Borders MP Michael Moore, for talks about the future of the industry in Scotland.
Although a three-year delay to the introduction of the EU’s sheep movement rules until 2014 was secured, Mr Miller reiterated his belief that the European Union should downgrade some of the less relevant cross-compliance standards, and said action must be taken quickly.
He told TheSouthern: “I think there is scope [for more pressure to simplify regulations].
“There is a whole spectrum of activity just now including the summit we had with the Scottish Government where they committed to look at new compliances within Scotland and maybe renegotiate them in Europe.
“It would be helpful if Defra (the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and the UK minister were supportive to try and move things on.
“It was always going to be difficult to get significant changes until the regulation had bedded in but we are at that period now and there is maybe an opportunity this year, with the new cattle EID [electronic ID] or traceability regulations coming in, of hooking on amendments to that regulation [for sheep tagging] which could be helpful. But time is slipping away.”
However, Mrs Spelman said she had already applied “a huge amount of pressure on Europe” and championed the Westminister government’s role last month in gaining the 36-month suspension.
The Conservative MP, whose family hail from Eyemouth, said: “We took the EU agriculture Commissioner [Dacian] Ciolos here to see the sheer scale of the problem affecting Scotland.
“He has heard and understood that and we will continue to work with the commission to ensure we have something practical for our farmers to work with. But already the three-year concession is something good to work with.”
Also high on the agenda during Mrs Spelman’s visit was the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform negotiations.
The majority of EU countries have demanded a freeze to the allocation for the seven-year period from 2013 but Mrs Spelman said: “Every agricultural minister in Europe knows the CAP budget is going to be reduced.
“Our job is to make sure that budget works to the advantage of the member states we represent.
“My job is to make sure the way the CAP budget applies is optimal for all parts of the United Kingdom.”
Asked if he believed an official from north of the Border should accompany Mrs Spelman to stand up for Scottish farmers’ interests at the CAP discussions, Mr Miller said: “We are always keen to have Scottish representative because our farming is very different – 85 per cent of Scottish farming is on less favoured areas and we have a very different historic support system than England’s area-based system.
“These are particular issues for Scotland and they are vital if we are going to have a future.”
But Mr Miller was positive his meeting with the UK minister and Mr Moore will benefit Borders farmers.
He added: “We were looking at things which are pretty important for the Borders, such as discussing sensitive less favoured areas, many of which are in this region.
“We also discussed the greening component to CAP reform which fits in with Borders and Scottish farming.
“We have had a really good meeting today and we hope we will get a synergy between the UK minister and the British Government so our voice is at the table and our priorities are on the agenda.”