Commissioner urged to drive forward simplification agenda

European Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner Phil Hogan was urged to drive forward his ‘simplification’ agenda as he visited a West Lothian farm this morning (20 May).

At the request of NFU Scotland, the Commissioner visited the Dandie family at Learielaw, Broxburn on Friday, 20 May, where they run a large arable farm with a beef suckler cow herd and beef finishing enterprises. The visit followed Commissioner Hogan’s participation in NFU Scotland’s debate on European membership: “In or Out – The implications for Scottish food and farming” which was held at Ingliston the previous evening (Thursday 19 May).

Commissioner Hogan spoke in some detail about his commitment to cutting regulatory burden during the debate and NFU Scotland used the farm visit to push the case that his simplification agenda must deliver meaningful change for those actively farming and crofting in Scotland today.

Speaking after the visit, NFU Scotland President Allan Bowie said: “The regulatory framework built around CAP, and the fear that has built up around accidental breaches of those rules, weighs heavily on almost every farm business in Scotland.

“Commissioner Hogan has spoken passionately about his simplification agenda, changes are being introduced and we understand more positive developments are yet to be announced. That is refreshing to hear and we urge the Commissioner to press on with that work so that we can make a genuine difference to the regulatory burden on Scottish farm businesses.

“One key development already on track is the notion of a ‘yellow card’ system on penalties, where an unintentional breach of the rules offers the opportunity to rectify matters rather than the current heavy handed penalty system approach – a significant step forward on proportionality and a lobbying priority of NFU Scotland’s for many, many years. We look forward to more detail on how this approach can be taken forward.

“On regulation, the rules around the ‘greening’ element of the new CAP are part of Commissioner Hogan’s review. We not only need simplification in this area, but we also want the Commissioner to better recognise the huge environmental contribution that farming currently delivers.

“While we urge Commissioner Hogan to put the tools in place across Europe, it will then be NFU Scotland’s job to ensure that Scottish Government adopts them. But as we have seen, to our cost, Scottish Government has at times chosen to gold-plate rather than simplify and as a result our farmers and growers are now operating to more restrictive greening rules when compared to other parts of the UK and Europe.

“With CAP budgets under pressure, we want the Commissioner’s review to keep a focus on activity, preserving precious funds for those actively farming and so delivering the economic, environmental and social goods which the CAP was designed for.

“With the meeting having taken place on an excellently managed West Lothian farm, producing quality Scottish cereals and beef, the extreme market volatility affecting every farm and every sector in Europe means Commissioner Hogan must press on with measures to help reduce the impact of such extreme volatility on family farms. We know market management tools and support from the European Investment Bank are under discussions but the farm price crisis is deepening.

“NFU Scotland believes changes are required in the wider supply chain. As things stand, an unfair share of the risk sits with primary producers while they are failing to share in the rewards. While the Grocery Code Adjudicator is an important starting point for fairness in the UK, we urge the Commissioner to press on with similar considerations at a European level and extend these from the retailer right down the supply chain to farms.”

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