NFUS chief set to host DEFRA official

THE DEFRA secretary of state will visit NFU Scotland president Nigel Miller’s Borders farm in the new year.

The purpose is to push for Scottish farmers’ views of how the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) should be reformed in 2013.

Mr Miller said: “NFU Scotland will conduct its work on the next CAP around three major themes: firstly we shall continue to be deeply involved at an EU-level on the overall direction of the policy; second, we shall be delving into the current and emerging proposals to ensure that we interpret correctly the finer details of issues such as the definition of an active farmer, permanent pasture and three-crop rotation; third, we shall engage with our members in all sectors and across the whole of Scotland to listen to their thoughts on the Basic Payment Scheme and how to divide Scotland for administrative purposes.

“It is crucial that we support our active farmers.

“In addition, we shall study closely the best way of using the proposals’ voluntary components, for example, payments for those farming in Areas of Natural Constraint and coupled payments.

“These may provide options that could help keep many of our members’ businesses on a sure footing.

“Given the diversity of Scotland’s land types and farming systems, it is apparent that we shall need to build on base area payments in some way; a point clearly recognised by Brian Pack in his report on future support for agriculture in Scotland.”

In the coming 12 months, the next CAP’s final budget will be agreed and revised proposals are expected from the EU Commission following consultation with the EU Parliament and EU Council.

Mr Miller went on: “There will be great challenges along the way, but it is vital that our politicians and ourselves are in there fighting for what’s important to Scottish agriculture.

“We must ensure that the next CAP will provide enough flexibility to suit Scotland’s particular needs without being too bureaucratic and that support for active farmers in the future is ensured.

“The only way to tackle this is to consider all the issues, in full, to engage with our members and to keep in constant contact with our colleagues in Holyrood, Brussels and London.

“On this final aspect I shall be pleased to welcome DEFRA secretary of state, Caroline Spelman on January 12.

“We shall have the perfect opportunity to discuss many of the issues which are particular to Scotland.”

The union hopes that during the discussions there will be chance to come up with an advisory service to help farmers on cross-compliance, rather than inspection and penalities .

The union’s chief executive Scott Walker said: “Allowing government officials to deliver advice and support – rather than simply carrying out inspection and enforcement – is a move that farmers would welcome ... there needs to be focus on outcomes rather than a strict adherence to procedures and rules. If farmers are delivering on what the desired outcome of any regulation is, then no penalties should apply even if rules are not strictly adhered to.

“Where penalties are to apply, we need a fresh look at proportionality. Our current system has the potential to impose swingeing cuts in a farm’s support for relatively minor infringements. Where there has been no deliberate attempt to defraud and genuine mistakes made then the levels of penalty imposed must be given a degree of perspective.”