Richard Lochhead has this week been in Brussels pushing for a solution to the potential problems created by recent Delegated Acts coming out of the European Commission. One of those Acts suggested that Scotland would not be able to introduce minimum stocking rates to ensure that support only goes to active farmers, which potentially opens the door to another slipper farmer issue.
European action is urgently needed to solve the problem of farm payments being made on land where no agricultural activity takes place, Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead has said.
Scotland secured a clause in the new Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) aimed at ensuring payments can only made to active farmers. However, the European Commission’s most recent draft interpretation of the ‘Scottish clause’ appears to rule out linking payments with production.
Mr Lochhead has now written to the European Agriculture Commissioner Dacian Ciolos to highlight the difficulty that will cause for Scotland, which has large areas of uncultivated land that are suitable for grazing. Mr Lochhead has also written to DEFRA Minister Owen Paterson, urging him to raise the issue at Monday’s EU Council of Ministers in Brussels.
Speaking from Brussels, Mr Lochhead said:
“One of the main achievements of the new CAP was the insertion of the ‘Scottish clause’ to ensure farmers are rewarded for current activity and so-called slipper farmers would no longer benefit. This is a huge concern in Scotland, where we have around a million of hectares of wild land where no farming activity whatsoever is taking place - but could qualify for Single Farm Payments in 2015 unless action is taken in Europe. We need a meaningful and workable solution if we are to prevent a significant dilution of payments to genuinely active farmers and a waste of millions of euros of CAP money.
“Obviously that solution will need to comply with World Trade Organisation rules but I am confident we can identify a set of conditions that would enable a minimum activity level to be set in Scotland with, at most, a minimal impact on production and hence trade. That is why I have asked the UK Government to raise this issue at the EU Council of Ministers, and written to Commissioner Ciolos expressing my concerns. The new CAP will contain measures which will make slipper farming more difficult anyway, but it is essential we close loopholes such as this if we are to have a proper clampdown."