Scottish Government Decisions on Nitrogen Fixing Crops Limit Scotland’s Greening Options

NFU Scotland has expressed deep disappointment at Scottish Government’s decision to impose stringent management restrictions on those hoping to grow nitrogen fixing crops in a bid to meet their greening obligations.

It has been known for some time that Scottish growers would be able to consider growing nitrogen fixing crops under the Ecological Focus Area (EFA) rules which require any farm claiming support with more than 15 hectares of arable land to ensure that five per cent of their arable area is managed in a certain way.   However, decisions from Scottish Government on many associated rules have been frustratingly slow in emerging.

South of the Border, growers have known for some time that they can grow nitrogen fixing crops to meet their EFA with no management restrictions attached other than meeting GAEC (Good Agricultural and Environmental Conditions) requirements.  

In stark contrast, here in Scotland, Scottish Government is going to require those considering nitrogen fixing crops to plant two different nitrogen fixing crops in each EFA area, harvest those crops after 1 August each year and maintain field margins around them.

The Union is adamant that such restrictions will mean that growing nitrogen fixing crops is no longer a viable EFA option for many growers.

NFU Scotland President Nigel Miller said:
“After a very frustrating period pressing Scottish Government for a full set of guidance on greening, our members will be deeply disappointed that the announcement that has eventually emerged on nitrogen fixing crops will knock out an important EFA option for many.

“EFA requirements were always going to pose a challenge for Scotland’s productive arable sector but compliance also flows onto many livestock and dairy units where arable crops and temporary grass are grown and things like wholecrop form part of the feeding regime.

“The EU agreement last year allowed member states and regions to have some flexibility in deciding which EFA options were most appropriate and that these could be designed to be viable for most parts. Europe recognised the value of nitrogen fixing crops, not only in supporting pollinators but in minimising the use of artificial fertilisers, improving soil structure, benefitting water quality and providing a source of home-grown protein.

“Weighting and conversion factors were also built in by Europe to incentivise best practice and also simplify administration.  The Scottish Government has now walked away from these smart greening devices that would have fitted with farming in the real world.

“Since June, with the CAP announcement, the Scottish Government has made it clear that it would not be making full use of that flexibility and that Scotland would be operating on a limited list of EFA options. That approach has been compounded by the decision finally being taken to gold plate and apply management limitations to nitrogen fixing crops, limiting the positive role that they can play in Scottish rotations.

“In stark contrast to the EFA rules that will apply to growers south of the Border, Scottish Government are introducing management prescriptions to those in Scotland who would choose to use nitrogen fixing crops as way of meeting their EFA commitments.

“In our opinion, these prescriptions make the growing of nitrogen fixing crops a non-starter on many farms and therefore severely limits the EFA options for Scottish growers.

“Unfortunately, nitrogen fixing crops is only one greening issue on which we were awaiting clarity.  With Scottish farmers having to second guess what all the final greening rules will be, planting decisions cannot be completed until Scottish Government makes all the information available.”  

Notes to Editors

  • “Agricultural practices beneficial for the climate and the environment”, known as ‘greening’ are mandatory requirements of the CAP reform coming into force on 1 January 2015.   They require farmers to comply with rules on Permanent Grassland, Crop Diversification and Ecological Focus Areas (EFA).   Thirty percent of the entire budget for direct payments is dedicated to greening.
  • Ecological Focus Areas (EFA) - Farmers with more than 15 hectares of arable land will need to ensure that five per cent of the arable area is managed as one or more of the following
    • field margins and buffer strips along water courses (applying a 1.5 weighting factor)
    • catch crops (0.3 weighting)
    • nitrogen fixing crops (0.7 weighting)
    • land lying fallow (1.0 weighting)
  • Farmers who fail to abide by the requirements are subject to reductions in farm support.   In 2015 this could mean the loss of more than 30 percent of their direct payments.   That potential loss increases during the lifetime of the reform.
  • The greening detail that growers and NFU Scotland are still pressing Scottish Government for includes:
    • the start and end dates for EFA Fallow
    • what will be required for land to be deemed to be at a farmers ‘disposal’ (important for rental/tenancy issues)
    • any changes on the rules concerning cultivation next to landscape features
    • the rules for catch/cover crops claimed as EFA
    • lists of crops acceptable for diversification, ‘permanent’ crops and ‘leguminous’ crops
    • Rules on crops sown as a mixture of species.
  • Copies of NFU Scotland’s ‘Rough Guide to CAP’ and a guide to greening measures as we understand them are available on the NFU Scotland website at:  Members can also contact regional and head office staff for guidance.


Contact Bob Carruth on 0131 472 4006

Date Published:

News Article No.: 156/14

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