Scottish Government’s greening goldplating continues to disadvantage Scottish growers

NFU Scotland is seeking fresh talks with Scottish Government over greening rules that continue to place Scottish growers at a competitive disadvantage compared to those south of the Border.
Despite a long running campaign by NFU Scotland, Scottish Government continues to demand greening requirements of growers which go beyond what is required at EU level.  The Union has mapped out a list of greening changes which it believes meets European requirements and would bring the restrictions placed on Scottish growers into line with farmers elsewhere.
In recent days, the Union has requested a further meeting with the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Connectivity Fergus Ewing to discuss greening.  This follows a visit to a Perthshire farm in the autumn.  It has also invited the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham, to visit an arable farm in the New Year to view the many environmental benefits such farms produce but also see the impacts that gold-plated greening is having on growers.
Management of fallow land, kept to meet the Ecological Focus Areas (EFA) element of greening, provides an excellent illustration of the additional hoops that Scottish growers must currently go through.
A recent letter from the European Union to NFU Scotland confirmed that, under scheme rules, farmers can use mechanical methods to control weeds and conduct drainage work during the fallow period. Given flooding issues and significant weed problems, these would have been hugely beneficial to Scottish growers.  
And while English growers have been able to carry out such operations on fallow land for the past two years, Scottish farmers cannot under Scottish rules.
NFU Scotland’s President Allan Bowie said: “The Union remains resolutely committed to seeking changes within current greening requirements that address both Scottish Government gold-plating and the simplification agenda in Brussels.
“Despite a huge lobbying effort from officeholders, staff and members, securing changes to Scotland’s interpretation of greening rules has been a long, hard slog.  After eight months of claiming that it was acting in accordance with EU rules, the Scottish Government finally conceded in February 2016, that its requirement for EFA Green Cover to be incorporated into the soil was home-grown gold-plating.  Faced with overwhelming evidence of the environmental benefits of no-till and minimum tillage systems, the requirement was finally dropped.
“On EFA fallow, we have written to Fergus Ewing and shown him first hand on farm how removal of gold-plating would benefit Scottish growers and still fit with the European Commission’s simplification plans for greening.  Our case was strengthened, and Cabinet Secretary was written to again at the end of October, when the Commission confirmed that aligning Scotland’s rules on EFA Fallow management with England’s would be compatible with EU legislation.
“These common-sense changes to Scottish rules would allow mechanical control of weeds, the topping of green cover and drainage work to be carried out during the fallow period – activities that have been banned on EFA fallow in Scotland during 2015 or 2016 but have been permitted in England.
“Europe’s approach to Greening is changing and Scotland must come into line.  The EC’s proposed changes to Greening were leaked in June and contained many positive developments. The negatives included a proposal to extend the fallow period to nine months and it appears that this unhelpful rule change has been dropped.
“However, the EU Commission is continuing to press for a ban on the use of Plant Protection Products (PPP) on EFA fallow, cover crops, catch crops and Nitrogen Fixing Crops (NFC).  That is a concern that NFUS has raised with Fergus Ewing and has been working with the other UK Farming Unions to try to stop.
“Looking beyond Brexit, we are also putting down markers on the sort of appropriate environmental requirements that might be attached to future agricultural support.  That process involves building up an evidence base on how effective existing Greening rules have been and pulling together wider evidence of the many environmental benefits that Scottish agriculture already delivers.” Ends
Notes to Editors
The list of changes to Greening rules that NFU Scotland would like to see adopted for 2017 is as follows:
align rules on EFA Fallow with those of England, to allow drainage work and sensible control of weeds during the fallow period
align rules on EFA Nitrogen Fixing Crops (NFC) with those of England, i.e. especially the new requirement for 2016 which forced those using the option to grown at least two NFC crops
align how EFA Conversion and Weighting Factors are used with the rest of the UK, to increase the attractiveness of the Field Margin and Buffer Strip options
take up of the option to permit grazing on Buffer Strips to make them a realistic option for livestock producers
adopt more EFA options such as Agroforestry, hedges and ponds
take up the options offered by the EU Simplification proposals (other than the proposed ban on PPP use).  That would include:
- merging the EFA Field Margin/Buffer Strip options and allowing grazing
- allowing mixes of NFC and non-NFC, where the NFC dominates
- allowing undersown grass/clover mixes as ‘Catch Crops’
- replacing the current 1 October deadline for planting of Green Cover/Catch Crops with a minimum maintenance period of 8 weeks
- making available as EFA the merged ‘trees in line’ and ‘hedges and wooded strips’ options
- making ponds up to 0.3ha available as an EFA option

Date Published:

News Article No.: 271/16

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