NFU Scotland has written to the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Richard Lochhead, welcoming his visit to Brussels today and urging him to build on the new political dynamic that emerged from the Union’s recent AGM.Political statements at the NFUS event, held in St Andrews on 10 and 11 February, opened the door to the further use of coupled support in Scotland and a commitment to a budget review process in 2016 that could see a fairer allocation of CAP funding across the UK.Mr Lochhead is meeting the European Commission to discuss Scottish Government’s new proposals for implementing the ‘Scottish clause’ to tackle slipper farming and also its views on a higher rate of voluntary coupled support.The Union believes there are challenges ahead at Westminster and in Europe if Scotland is to gain the power of coupling support to vulnerable hill farms but, together with effective minimum activity requirements, it is a ‘must win’ for Scotland if Pillar 1 support is to meet its stated purpose. Determining convergence criteria for the UK budget review will also be hard fought with our partners within these islands. Welcoming the Cabinet Secretary’s visit to Brussels, and urging him to keep working on coupling and budget convergence criteria, NFUS President Nigel Miller said:“In the aftermath of the presentations at our AGM, there is now a new political dynamic. A door has opened to the further use of coupled support in Scotland and a process for a UK budget allocation review in 2016 is starting to emerge. That is based on the goal of similar land types in the UK moving to similar area support budgets per hectare. “These are significant developments for our industry and offer an invaluable way forward in which the Cabinet Secretary’s input will be crucial if value is to be secured.
“Coupling is a powerful targeting tool, as it can deliver both vital support to active farming where it is most needed and, through budget efficiency, the use of that same tool protects the value of area payments throughout Scotland.“NFU Scotland has highlighted the risks of active and productive hill farms failing in the rough grazing payment region because of the single, flat rate area payment that has been proposed. That same approach also overcompensates areas of low intensity, extensive hill grazing. Coupling part of the rough grazing payment region budget can solve these issues without draining money from low ground support.“Units with 80 percent rough grazing or more are amongst the highest risk units in Scotland – physically constrained and financially exposed to volatility in markets and input costs, and now many of the most active are facing significant reductions in direct support receipts. Focusing explicit coupled support on this group of farms can help to close the rough grazing support gap. That focus can secure hill ewes, hill cattle and communities in remoter and disadvantaged areas. “The issue of the UK’s convergence dividend was also a key theme at our AGM. The concept of equivalent support for equivalent land classes is hard to argue against in a UK context. “At our AGM, Defra Farming Minister George Eustice laid out broad terms of reference for a budget review in 2016 being based primarily on “fairness” and a parity of payments footing. "However, the basis of convergence is not fixed, and it must be defined clearly before this process can be taken forward. It is important that Richard Lochhead and his officials engage with Defra and the other devolved administrations to bolt down regionalisation, land equivalence standards, and budget weighting as the foundation of that essential review process.”