Marathon of complex CAP reform deal needs to end

Nigel Miller, President, NFU Scotland
Nigel Miller, President, NFU Scotland

All in all, 2014 has been a remarkable year for Scotland.

Perhaps for 2015, we could hold onto that glorious weather and hope for a more ordinary year, both politically and in farming terms.

Some dull days to live and enjoy without external pressures or conflicts taking over our thoughts. What are the chances?

At home, an election will keep politics bubbling at the centre of the media, albeit at a slightly lower temperature than the referendum.

For many of us, now is the time to get on with real decision-making to take us forward. That, for Scotland, must mean taking steps to make the Smith Commission proposals work. Yes, of course, it is a compromise that attempts to bridge the views of both the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns, but there are real powers with potential to drive change. With power, there is an opportunity and responsibility to use it for good.

As farmers, we need the marathon of a complex CAP reform deal to end and for the Scottish Government to be clear on what it can deliver. It is vital the system is made to work and uncertainty to be closed down. This European ritual of parachuting a new agricultural policy onto the rural economy may be good political theatre, but it is deeply uncomfortable for those on the ground. Changes in direction have the potential to shock long-term businesses like farming.

Perhaps Phil Hogan, the new agricultural commissioner, could move us away from agricultural policy revolutions and towards an evolutionary world where gradual change is a response to a problem or to meet a new challenge.

Commissioner Hogan plans to bring forward his simplification agenda in Brussels, including a review of greening. Our own Cabinet Secretary, Richard Lochhead, now has an opportunity to adopt the recommendations in Brian Pack’s report to push back red tape. Together, they can start a journey that reduces bureaucracy on farm and relegates disproportionate compliance interventions to history.

The agriculture holdings legislation review group reports before Christmas, aiming to deliver a package that breaks through the conflicts that have overshadowed the tenanted sector. In 2015, that package, including legislation, must win wide support to create both stability and opportunities. To drive change, it needs a fast track through the parliament.

At an international level, after months of negotiation, the detail must be bolted down on robust trade standards to bring the proposed US trade deal to completion. A balanced trade agreement can open up opportunities for European agriculture if we get it right. Access to Europe, however, must be limited to products that comply with EU production standards. Peace in Europe with open trade and a growing EU economy can build value back into the food sector. Today that looks a difficult goal. However, without a more positive platform, trade shocks are likely to erode profitability throughout the continent.

At a personal level, come February, I will move on to pastures new with my very best wishes to whoever forms our new presidential team at the union.

As I ponder what may lie ahead, a glorious April for lambing leading into sunshine and long summer evenings will go a long way to making 2015 a good new year.