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ScotGov Must Address Gold-Plated Greening

NFU Scotland has seized the initiative on making necessary changes to gold-plated greening rules in Scotland following the Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead’s offer of revisiting existing arrangements.

While addressing a seminar at AgriScot last Wednesday (18 November), Mr Lochhead was challenged robustly by several members of the audience over elements of the new greening requirements that have been gold-plated by Scottish Government.

NFU Scotland believes that decisions and rules which go above and beyond the EU standard greening requirements have left Scottish agriculture at a competitive disadvantage.  The Union has raised its concerns regarding greening with both Richard Lochhead and his officials on numerous occasions throughout the introduction of the new CAP rules.

In response to the Cabinet Secretary indicating that he was willing to look again at these measures, the Union has wasted no time in writing to Mr Lochhead and his officials, including a request to meet again on the matter.

Looking at requirements around Ecological Focus Areas (EFA) – a necessary element of greening rules -  the Union has used its letter to the Cabinet Secretary to point to Scotland-only rules around Nitrogen Fixing Crops (NFCs), field margins, green cover, conversion factors, buffer strips, hedges, fallow and EFA options.

NFU Scotland President, Allan Bowie said: “There are a number of specific gold-plated greening requirements for Scottish farmers that are in Richard Lochhead’s gift to revise.  Changing these could make a real difference to the competitiveness of our farmers, but also make life considerably easier for those members of Scottish Government staff who have to enforce the overly-complicated greening rules.  

“Decisive action by the Cabinet Secretary on these greening matters is needed if Scottish Government claims over its commitment to simplification of rules are to be seen as something more than just lip service.

“NFUS provided a long list of greening concerns to Scottish Government in spring of this year to feed into the European discussions led by Commissioner Hogan on greening and simplification to which we have had little or no feedback.   

“While Commissioner Hogan’s review of greening next year is unlikely to bring forward changes until 2017, the Scottish Government must let the farming industry know what greening simplification measures it is seeking in Europe.   We need to know if they are on our side or if we are pushing ahead by ourselves with the EU.

“Before then, there is clearly much that can be done by Richard Lochhead to simplify and improve the current implementation of greening in Scotland without any changes being needed in Europe.  Only by addressing Scottish Government gold-plating can we ensure a level competitive footing with our competitors.   

“Frustration and anger within our membership around greening continue to build.  That is why the Cabinet Secretary’s offer to revisit the matter is so important and we now need action to deliver change rather than just words.”

Notes to Editors

In its letter to Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead regarding Greening rules in Scotland, NFU Scotland has asked for the following to be addressed:

  • Nitrogen Fixing Crops (NFC) – These were included as an Ecological Focus Area (EFA) measure under the EU regulations.  Although biodiversity is the main purpose of EFA, the EU also wanted to encourage the production of protein crops to reduce reliance on imported protein feed.  Scottish growers are at a competitive disadvantage because they have to comply with management rules that are not being applied to our main competitors in England.  Scottish farmers are not being allowed to harvest NFC’s grown to meet EFA obligations before 1 August – an issue for vining pea growers.
  • Nitrogen Fixing Crops – Two Crop Requirement Those growers using NFCs to meet their EFA obligations are now required by the Scottish Government to grow two NFC crops rather than one. Requiring two NFC crops to be grown will deter most farmers from taking up that EFA option in 2016 due to the complexity of having to grow, harvest, store and sell a small quantity of crop.  In 2015, the area of peas and beans planted in Scotland increased by 23 percent but the introduction of this new management rule for 2016 is likely to see planted areas fall, reducing the environmental benefit of this measure.
  • Nitrogen Fixing Crops – Field Margins A further gold-plating of the rules for 2016 is a new requirement that each NFC EFA crop must be ‘surrounded’ by an EFA Field Margin, i.e. not just at the edges of the field as in 2015 but also between NFC and neighbouring crops grown in the same field.  This is problematic as Field Margins must be in place for 12 months, with no agricultural production, meaning that after harvesting the crops in the field the farmer could not prepare the field for autumn cropping in the normal way.  As this requirement only appeared in the Scottish Government’s 2016 Greening Guide published in October there will be farmers who have already planted winter beans or winter peas next to another crop without leaving a margin.
  • Green Cover - The Scottish Government’s 2016 Greening Guide makes it mandatory rather than voluntary that green cover, grown as an EFA option, should be incorporated into the soil before the next crop is grown.  This makes the option unusable by growers who operate a no-till or min-till arable system, despite such systems meeting the policy objectives of improving soil structure and minimal soil disturbance.
  • EFA Conversion Factors - Conversion Factors in the European regulations were specifically included to reduce the burden imposed on farmers and Competent Authorities (CA) by the need to accurately measure certain EFA land.  The Scottish Government decided not to take advantage of this simplification measure whereas they are used throughout the rest of the British Isles, including Eire. 
    As a result, in Scotland, the actual width of every Buffer Strips and Field Margins claimed under EFA must be individually measured along its complete length, and when inspected by Scottish Government staff those measurements have to be checked.  This is particularly complex where watercourses or field boundaries are irregular. These onerous requirements have restricted uptake of buffer strips and field margins – valuable in creating wildlife corridors - as EFA options in Scotland. The use of the Conversion Factors would encourage uptake and so be environmentally beneficial, as well as simplifying administration by farmers and Scottish Government inspectors.
  • Grazing on EFA Buffer Strips - The EU regulations provide the option of allowing EFA Buffer Strips to be grazed.  The same is not permitted for Field Margins.  The Scottish Government decided not to take advantage of the grazing option, stating that it had taken that decision to avoid confusion amongst farmers.  Unfortunately, not allowing grazing acts as a serious disincentive to the establishment of Buffer Strips by livestock and mixed farmers needing to graze their animals on fields that have a water course on their boundary.
  • Management of Fallow - Although officials in Scotland and England both claim to be acting in accordance with guidance from Brussels there remain, for the 2016 claim year, significant differences in what is taken to constitute ‘agricultural production’ on EFA Fallow in Scotland and England.  In England, farmers are allowed to conduct drainage work during the fallow period and also to use methods, beyond spot application, to control weeds.  In Scotland, the inability to control weeds under Scottish rules has seen weed infestation spread rapidly through fallow ground and into adjacent fields, leading to increased herbicide usage.
  • Choice of EFA Options – Under original greening rules, Member States (MS) were required to map all potential EFA.  They were also allowed to restrict the choice of EFA options.  Due to the complexity of the task of mapping all EFA, the Scottish Government (and others) took the decision to restrict the choice of EFA options. 
    In May 2015, Commissioner Hogan significantly relaxed the burden of mapping by allowing MS to simply map the areas actually claimed as EFA.  We believe that this should trigger a re-examination of the list of EFA options chosen by the Scottish Government.  In a letter to NFUS, the European Commission has confirmed that changes can still be made by Scottish Government to EFA this claim year.
  • Hedges - This year Scottish farmers have been permitted to claim Field Margins which include hedges no wider than 3m but hedges on their own could not be claimed as EFA.  The maximum width of 3m is the EU-set limit on the width of hedge that can be ignored when calculating the usable area of a parcel.  The perverse result this year has been that some hedges, widened with SRDP support could not be included in claimed Field Margins because they are too wide.  In order for these hedges to be claimed as EFA in the future they would have to be reduced in width, undoing the environmental benefit of widening them.  Instead, adding Hedges as an EFA option would mean that such action would not be required.
  • Forestry - Under the previous CAP schemes which had requirements for set-aside it was recognised that arable land that had been converted to forestry within such schemes could be claimed as ‘structural set-aside’.  Land claimed as Agro-forestry, a new SRDP 2014-2020 option, which under the EU regulations can only be claimed as EFA if on arable land, should be included in the list of Scottish EFA options.  This would encourage uptake of the measure.


Ends

Contacts Bob Carruth on 0131 472 4006

Date Published:

News Article No.: 222/15


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