Details of CAP payments leave layman screaming for mercy

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The countryside continues to look well, give or take a few impressive thunderstorms and an equally impressive range of plant bugs and diseases to be kept under control if possible.

That “looking good” part is just as well because farmers, particularly in Scotland, are still in suspense about what will happen to European Union farm subsidies come January 1 next year. That is at time of writing. By today (Thurs) it is possible that Richard Lochhead will have announced how the SNP government hope to deal with the country’s common agricultural policy (CAP) subsidy allocation. As I write, the fear among farmers is that the intricacies of CAP decision making will mean a few huge winners and thousands of heavy losers, a fear articulated last week by Jim Walker, former Scottish NFU president.

In his Scottish Farmer column Mr Walker argued again, as he has done for months, that as things stand Scotland’s beef farmers could be wiped out because subsidies for most will be slashed. He blames Scotland’s civil servants and the Scottish NFU for failing to make a stronger case, but mainly he blames Mr Lochhead and First Minister Alex Salmond for “simply moving the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

As always, detail of CAP subsidy payments leave the layman begging for mercy. But the gist of Mr Walker’s argument is that Mr Lochhead could by now have announced implementation of subsidies that would have been fairer to all. Instead, challenged to show leadership “he has failed miserably” and farmers “are in the last chance saloon.”

We’ve heard such end of the world predictions before, but – as with the boy who cried wolf – this time the worst might happen. Mr Lochhead and the SNP government have until now been seen as strongly supportive of farmers. That reputation is at risk. The irony is that farmers throughout England, who have suffered more from unsympathetic treatment on subsidies for the past decade, look as if they will come out of the latest CAP deal in better shape.

I was sorry for the Macfarlane family of Quixwood, Duns, hosts, and the organisers of Scotsheep last Wednesday when their preparations and hard work were victims of what must have seemed like a month’s rain in the space of a few hours. Several thousand farmers still turned up, which was a triumph for the appeal of the event and a testament to wellingtons and weatherproof clothing of every style and shape.

I was also sorry, very sorry, to learn that Maitland Mackie had died at 76 only three months after his wife. Ironically for one of the most entertaining and enthusiastic farmers/businessmen I’ve ever met, his ever-fizzing brain bursting with ideas, he died from a brain tumour. More entrepreneurs like him and his family and the Byzantine intricacies of the CAP wouldn’t matter.