NFU leader calls for ‘clear consensus’

KEY players will be at a two-day conference on CAP “greening” proposals organised by farming leaders for the end of the month.

Defra Secretary of State Caroline Spelman, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs Richard Lochhead and EU Parliament CAP negotiator MEP George Lyon are among those set to address the seminar organised by NFU Scotland.

The aim is to look at the impacts of the current EU Commission “greening” proposals in a reformed CAP, come up with alternative solutions and ways to make the ideas work.

Current planned changes tie 30 per cent of direct payments to farmers into making environmental improvements. So far the planned “greening” requirements include ecological focus areas (EFAs), where at least seven per cent of a farm is left fallow, crop rotation, where arable farmers have to grow three crops on farms bigger than three hectares, and farmers having to keep in permanent grassland areas they declare as such at the start of the new regime. Currently, permanent grassland is defined as fields which have been in grass for more than five years.

NFU Scotland officials claim the proposals could be “hugely problematic” A briefing from the union argues the three-crop rule would be difficult to implement, needing separate sowing, spraying and harvesting regimes for each, that it would require “substantial” additional administration to run and that it takes no account of the short weather window for working in fields. Forcing farmers to keep aside permanent grassland – an attempt to protect soil carbon – could stop reseeding and traditional practices that help the soil. And, using 2010 figures, they say EFAs will take out 38,500 hectares of arable land and ask if the environmental benefits would match the costs to farms.

Adjustments they suggest include making applying for the green payment voluntary, reducing the three-crop rule to two and/or making livestock farms that grow their own feed exempt from it, and reducing the size of EFAs.

Alternatives they suggest are having Scotland and others in the EU set their own measures tailored to local set-ups. In addition, the extension of exemptions to other farms also committed to the environment, not just organic farms; adding to the existing Good Agricultural and Environmental Requirements farmers already have to meet to get subsidies, or targeting the environmental improvements through a cash-boosted Pillar 2 which is European funding aimed at rural development and includes farm adaptation, forestry, processing and marketing of farm produce, training and development, and less-favoured area support.

Stow farmer and NFU Scotland president Nigel Miller, who will chair some of the conference, said: “We need to tease out the impact of the three-crop rule, permanent grassland and ecological focus areas and start seriously to promote alternative smart solutions that will contribute to the EC’s environmental targets while fitting with efficient production and the increasing demands of food security.”

The seminar will also be attended by farmers’ representatives from England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Ireland and Holland.

Mr Miller said: “The aim is to create as much common ground across like-minded EU member states as possible. There is no denying that when it comes to influencing EU decision-making there is strength in numbers, and a clear consensus from this meeting around greening will be a hugely important lobbying tool.”