South of Scotland MSP Joan McAlpine has today welcomed the announcement from Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead of a package of measures to support Scottish farming and rural communities.
In a statement to the Scottish Parliament, Mr Lochhead outlined how the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will be implemented in Scotland including plans for direct farm payments and Scotland’s rural development programme between 2015 and 2020.
“The measures I am announcing today will target support at genuinely active farmers – including new entrants – as well as specific measures to support Scottish livestock producers and the environment.
“In the face of the constraints imposed by the UK-negotiated budget deal, EU rules and challenging market conditions I have consulted extensively on CAP reform in Scotland and carefully considered all views.
“I am confident this is the best possible CAP package for Scotland under the circumstances, and will lay the foundations for a successful Scottish agricultural sector for years to come.
“Of course, if Scotland had been an independent country during the last round of CAP talks, we would have received an additional €1 billion in direct farm support and been able to join other countries in negotiating an uplift of hundreds of millions of euros in our rural development budget which helps our rural communities.
“It drives home the need for an independent Scotland to have our own seat at the top table in Europe for the next CAP negotiations.”
Today Ms McAlpine welcomed the Cabinet Secretary’s statement but emphasised that farmers are being hurt by Scotland’s regional status within the EU due to the UK Government’s repeated failure to secure a good deal for Scotland.
The SNP MSP commented:
“This announcement shows that the Cabinet Secretary has listened carefully to Scottish farmers and bent over backwards to get the best settlement in difficult circumstances. We should never forget that Scotland’s regional status in Europe means we get the lowest CAP per hectare. As an independent country, Scotland would be €1bill better off under CAP. It is also worth remembering that UK ministers wanted to abolish direct farm payments – something the Scottish Government opposed. Fortunately the UK was over-ruled by its EU partners.”
Ms McAlpine attended a regional National Farmers Union of Scotland meeting in Castle Douglas last Friday to hear what Dumfries and Galloway farmers wanted from Mr Lochhead.
“I am very pleased Mr Lochhead’s statement addressed all the concerns local farmers raised with me. First of all, they wanted strict activity requirements in return for payments and that is number one on the Cabinet Secretary’s list.
Second they wanted a five year transition period which is exactly what he has delivered. The local farmers also wanted a negative list, which he has done. They wanted a beef improvement scheme from Cap 2, which I am pleased to see he has created at a cost of £45million.
“Mr Lochhead has worked tirelessly to deliver for Scottish agriculture. But the money itself is negotiated by the UK government, who have not served Scotland well. Until we are an independent member of the EU we will have to divide up a cake whose size we cannot determine. It is frankly a disgrace that Scotland gets the lowest CAP in Europe when agriculture is a key industry and major earner.”
The main points announced by the Cabinet Secretary include:
* Strict activity requirements that farmers will have to meet to be eligible for direct payments. This will remove land with no agricultural activity from the payment regime, which is currently estimated at 600,000 hectares
* Basic direct farm payments will be capped at around £400,000 per year after labour costs
* Sporting estates will be added to the negative list to exclude them from receiving direct farm payments unless they can prove they are a genuine farm business
* The creation of three payment regions and a coupled support scheme for sheep for producers in the third region
* A five year transition between 2015 and 2019 for the move from historic to area-based farm payments, which is required by Europe. New entrants, who have previously been excluded from receiving direct farm payments, will get the regional average from day one of the new CAP
* A new £45 million three year beef improvement scheme. This is in addition to the 8 per cent coupled support scheme for beef which is being retained. Beef producers on the islands will be eligible for higher coupled support payments than mainland producers, with an uplift of around €65 per calf
* A greener CAP, with farmers being rewarded with Pillar 1 top-up payments for taking action to protect biodiversity and reduce emissions, and confirmation that rural development funding for agri-environment and climate change schemes will increase by more than £10 million per year as proposed in our consultation
* A separate capital grant scheme for crofters in the rural development programme.