CAP doesn’t fit for Scottish farmers after EU changes

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At least the weather has been settled over the past week or so – a touch of frost some mornings, mainly dry working conditions on all farms, a handful of spectacular sunsets and starry, moonlit, nights for those of a romantic disposition.

Or, as the realists who probably outnumber romantics among farmers might suggest, more of an aid to livestock rustlers and machinery thieves.

I say “at least” we’ve had the chance to enjoy remarkably good weather for November while the weather in farming politics has been stormy. The cause, no surprise, is allocation of payments to farmers from next year after changes to the European Union’s common agricultural policy (CAP). Government representatives argue that they got the best deal possible and that allocation of the slightly reduced amount – the CAP budget is down about 1.6% – will be fair for all UK farmers.

Scotland’s devolved government and its farmers, as represented by NFU Scotland and backed by most of the country’s other farming organisations, disagree. Protests threatened to reach gale force last week as the mechanics of subsidy distribution became clear. The Scottish position is that part of CAP change is intended to produce the same subsidy per hectare rate for every EU farm by 2020, convergence in the jargon, of about 196 euros . That would be good news for Scotland where the current average is about 100 euros per hectare.

But – a big but – the UK government, through its Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), argues that on average Scotland’s farmers already get about 11,000 euros a year more per farm than farmers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. A statement from Defra said that CAP funds were being shared equally and Scotland’s farmers would get “significant gains” from CAP changes.

It’s clear that if an argument is being conducted from different premises – per hectare versus per farm – then the chances of agreement or one side backing down are slim. Scotland’s SNP government, encouraged by farmers, doesn’t intend to back down. Rumblings are being heard about next year’s independence referendum and whether Scotland on its own could have reached a better deal for its farmers.

I tend to agree with Richard Wright, one of the most astute commentators on the CAP, who wrote last week: “While the outcome of the internal convergence argument was disappointing, it is important the industry (Scottish farming) moves on to fight the battles ahead rather than dwelling on the one that, for now, has been lost.”

Sound advice and it’s worth noting that, for instance, farmers and politicians in Wales don’t think Scotland is being unfairly treated. They are strongly against any diversion of more funds to Scotland. Farmers in Northumberland I’ve spoken to are also not in favour. Understandably, farmers in Scotland don’t see it like that. They see Defra’s attitude as hugely unfair and, in spite of Wright’s advice, will continue to argue that.

The outlook remains stormy.