Scottish farmers remain frustrated over lack of CAP clarity
Just under one-third (30 percent) of Scotland’s direct support (Pillar 1) budget will be allocated to the greening payment and, to receive it, farmers will need to undertake standard greening practices where relevant or not exempt. The Scottish Government is working on an equivalent greening scheme which, if approved by the EC in time, will be implemented in 2015. If not approved in time, the standard greening requirements will apply in 2015, with the intention to implement the equivalent greening measures from 2016.
The timetable is tight as Scotland is only two weeks away from submitting its final reform roadmap to the European Commission. However, with harvest underway, many growers are unable to finalise planting plans for this autumn and next spring without the necessary clarity on how greening rules around crop diversification (three crop rule) and Environmentally Friendly Areas (EFA) will apply.
In June, NFUS challenged the Scottish Government to answer the following:
- Which crops can be grown to meet the crop diversification requirement?
- What nitrogen fixing crops will be permitted to be grown as EFA?
- What catch crops and green cover will be permitted as EFA?
- What are the start and end dates for the period during which agricultural production will not be allowed on fallow, field margins and buffer strips?
A significant number of Scottish producers are still awaiting this vital information. The original Scottish Government impact assessment on crop diversity indicated that fewer than 1000 farms in Scotland would be forced to change cropping plans. With further analysis, that figure has now ballooned to more than 4000. This is a major issue at farm level and is likely to impact on national crop output.
Further meetings between NFU Scotland and Scottish Government officials have taken place this week to pin down the necessary requirements.
NFU Scotland President Nigel Miller said: “We appreciate that there is a balance to be struck in getting the detail right for growers and meeting EC deadlines but the driver must be the fact that growers need clarity and information now so they can plan for next season.
“The best choice for Scottish growers would be getting the right equivalence scheme in place for 2015. That said, we think Scottish Government is running out of time to meet this deadline, so growers may need to work with the existing greening measures as they stand for 2015 with proposed equivalence measures available the following season.
“Either way, decisions need to be made now and delivered quickly to growers. If the proposed equivalence scheme, which might provide an alternative to the three crop rule, is not live for 2015 then Scotland will be working on the core EC greening rules requiring crop diversity where the cropping area is over 30 hectares.
NFU Scotland’s Combinable Crops Chairman Andrew Moir added: “Of equal importance to growers is clear information on how the five percent EFA requirement may be delivered through field margins and/or buffer strips; the use of nitrogen fixing crops and fallow. As yet no information or viable management standards have been agreed.
“That is creating frustration for Scottish growers, heightened by the fact that a set of pragmatic and workable rules on these matters have already been agreed for growers south of the Border. We would wish equivalent standards to be available here.
“In absence of clear detail, producers may have to build wiggle room into their cropping plans by retaining some stubble over winter. The role of fallow as a fall back to meet EFA requirements may also may be of use as an entry to oilseed rape but again more detail is needed.
“Nitrogen fixing crops may also be an option to grow a useful crop but also create diversity; a real resource for pollinators; improve soils and protect water quality. This is the key stone that can make greening function on many farms.”
The Rural Payments Agency (RPA) faces one of the most challenging periods in its history, according to chief executive Mark Grimshaw.
Speaking at the publication of its 2014/15 Business Plan, Mr Grimshaw said the key challenge for 2014/15 would be preparing RPA people and customers for a smooth transition to the new CAP schemes.
Working with Defra to build a computer system to deliver the payments, while maintaining ‘business as usual’ to the high standards customers have come to expect, would also be priorities.
Mr Grimshaw said: “We have taken the practical decision to maintain our indicators at 2013 levels to focus on preparing our people, our customers and our systems to be ready for the transition to the new, reformed CAP
“There will, however, be no let-up in the drive to maintain our current high levels of customer service and scheme performance while delivering the third year of the Five Year Plan.”
“It will be a tough task but RPA is in a better place than it was last time round. Over the past two years we have completed early a highly successful strategic improvement programme which has stabilised the agency and delivered our best ever performance.
“The result is today’s RPA is a lean, agile and high performing organisation which is ready for the challenges ahead.
“The scale of the Agency’s transformation is recognised by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs which has made us responsible for delivery of all EU payments, not just the new Basic Payment Scheme (BPS). The recent announcement by the National Audit Office lifting the third and final qualification on our accounts also demonstrates how far we have come.
“Our priority now is to persuade customers to engage early with the CAP Information Service (CAPIS) online system. They can find out how by looking out for the series of leaflets we are producing as part of the CAP Reform Countdown.
“With the help of the Defra network, our people and our industry partners, we are working hard to make the transition to the new schemes and the new IT as smooth as possible.”
The plan’s headline indicators include achieving an average customer satisfaction score of 8 out of 10 across the year; ensuring that 97 per cent of customers are paid 97 per cent of the fund value by 31 March 2015; and guaranteeing that at least 99 per cent of payments are accurate first time, measured against financial value.
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