Scottish government must grasp activity tools

Scotland must make the most of the policy tools available to ensure precious CAP support is targeted at those actively contributing to our food and farming sector.

NFU Scotland has called on the Scottish Government to match its verbal commitment to recognising activity with action and asks it to buy into two of the available options – adopting 2013 as the reference period for claims when the new scheme starts in 2015 and creating a robust negative list of eligible activities to ensure funds are preserved for real producers.

The Union believes failure to take these options on board will undermine production – not just over the next year of uncertainty – but has the potential to reduce output right up to 2020.

Limiting the allocation of area-based entitlements in 2015 to the farmed area in 2013 would curtail the growing issue of those who currently let out land taking it back in hand in order to receive any area-based payments that could be attached to that land in the future. That has implications for those heavily reliant on annual grass lets arrangements and those very productive farm businesses that traditionally lease land on an annual basis for vegetable and potato production. Failure to use 2013 as a reference year for Scotland’s future direct support scheme will deny both new and growing farm businesses land to rent.

The Scottish Government must also implement, as part of the active farmer test, requirements that ensure no payments will go to legal entities included on a ‘negative list’ (i.e. airports, railways, permanent sports grounds, water works and operators of real estate services). NFU Scotland believes that a robust negative list should also be opened up to include land that is primarily used for sporting purposes, deer forest, conservation, etc. Claims could still be permitted if such land were brought back into agricultural use or the primary land use was shown to be active farming.

NFU Scotland President Nigel Miller said:
“Our intention from day one of this CAP reform process has been to support farming activity by genuine farmers at the helm of farm businesses.

“The option to link the allocation of entitlements to the area of land farmed in 2013 has the potential to create stability in the sector. That historic 2013 lock would be supported by the requirement to create a national reserve to ensure new entrants were not disadvantaged.

“Despite repeated calls from NFUS and other stakeholders for that 2013 reference period to be adopted, there has been no indication from Scottish Government that it will take up that opportunity to underpin active farming.

“That indecision is already having ramifications. A land grab has been triggered with some owners of land taking it out of short term tenancy and grazing arrangements to gain control over the now crucial 2014 and 2015 claim years.

“Active farmers, including new entrants, are being squeezed out of the new CAP and established businesses reliant on short term lets are being put at risk. Given the positive rhetoric on activity, many farmers will feel deep disappointment if Scotland does not adopt a 2013 reference year.

“This trend is avoidable and can be halted if the Scottish Government uses either land claimed or entitlements held in 2013 as the reference point for the number of entitlements to be offered when the new scheme comes into force in 2015. We need that decision now. If the Scottish Government dithers and lets this drift until 2015, then we will see more tenanted and let land pulled back in hand, the land market destabilised and great upset caused to active and potential farmers.

“We may be entering an era of area based support, but the simple occupation of land does not justify support. When it comes to allocating entitlement, there is an expectation that to avoid the mistakes of awarding public funding to land delivering precious little by way of agricultural activity, a robust negative list is essential. There would be uproar amongst the general public were large tracts of land found to be receiving support payments but contributing little or nothing to Scotland’s food and drink sector.

“It is in the gift of the Scottish Government to create a robust negative list that blocks out non-agricultural businesses or individuals from direct support. It is a simple tool but, again, a verbal commitment to tackle slipper farmers must be followed up by adoption of this measure.

“The last CAP period has highlighted how support systems can be used as an investment income. The new CAP, based on area payments, opens the gate to a new form of low intensity slipper farming. A robust negative list can help close that opportunity by excluding other land users unless they can demonstrate a genuine farming enterprise.

“Any reluctance on Scottish Government’s behalf to adopt both these policy options and genuinely drive activity may deliver a quick win by way of low administration burden and a light implementation load.

“However, it does nothing to secure some of our most active producers that operate or build businesses on short term lets and grazings. It will undermine production – not just over the next year of uncertainty – but has the potential to reduce output right up to 2020.”

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