Farm payments post Brexit

Newly shorn Bluefaced Leicester sheep  at Bothwell Farm near Cranshaws by Louise Renton from Duns.
Newly shorn Bluefaced Leicester sheep at Bothwell Farm near Cranshaws by Louise Renton from Duns.

Scottish Borders Council chiefs are being asked to meet with the region’s farmers about the future of EU farm payments.

The UK Government recently announced the creation of an independent advisory panel which will look at how farming subsidies, once EU funding is withdrawn, will be distributed between the home nations.

Until 2022, the Government has promised to match the current EU subsidies, but Michael Gove, secretary of state for the environment, has signalled that post-2022 farming subsidies may be based on more specialist criteria, such as environmental protection.

Ahead of a meeting of Scottish Borders Council this week, Tweeddale East councillor Heather Anderson tabled a motion which would compel the council’s administration to meet with the region’s agricultural sector and listen to their concerns.

The motion reads: “Given the significant role farmers and food producers play within our rural economy and the current uncertainty they are facing, we ask Scottish Borders Council to convene an early meeting with key stakeholders in farming and rural civic society to explore both the important contribution they can make towards improving local prosperity and to identify potential barriers they may face.

“It would be hoped that such a meeting would also strengthen the council’s understanding of the key contribution these stakeholders can make towards the success of the South of Scotland Economic Agency and the potential Borderlands initiative.”

An analysis of Borders postcodes, including the TD15 Berwick-upon-Tweed postcode, shows 1,159 people received EU payments totalling over £61m in 2017, an increase of more than a third on 2016’s payments, when 1,143 people received more than £45.7m.

A point of contention for farmers in Scotland stems from additional EU convergence funding the UK received because of the soil quality and weather problems Scottish farmers face - money that was divided across the home nations.

South of Scotland list MSP Colin Smyth has also voiced concerns around the creation of the independent advisory panel, saying that any cuts to Scottish agriculture payments would be unacceptable: “We are just a few months away from Brexit, yet there has been a complete and utter lack of clarity from both the UK and Scottish Government over the long term future of farm payments which are so crucial to this area.

“When the UK Government complete this long awaited review it is vital that we do not see cuts to the share of funding our region’s farmers get.

“At present, 17% of the UK’s common agricultural policy funding comes to Scotland, even although we have less than 10% of the population.

“The reasons for this are the clear geographical and land quality challenges Scotland’s farmers face compared to other parts of the UK. Any cut in this percentage would be unacceptable.

Colin Smyth added: “It is also time the UK Government paid up the £160 million they owe Scotland’s farmers for the EU convergence uplift payments.

“It is deeply disappointing that this review will not address the fact that Scottish farmers have lost out on millions of pounds of funding since 2014 due to the unfair decisions made by the UK Government.

“It’s time we started getting a fair deal for local farmers from both the UK Tory and Scottish SNP governments.”