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Union Calls for Agri-Environment Application Window to be Widened

NFU Scotland has urged Scottish Government to consider extending the deadline for applications to the agri-environment schemes to be made available as part of Scotland’s new rural development programme (SRDP).

The issue was raised with Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead at NFU Scotland’s recent AGM and the Union has now written to the Cabinet Secretary asking him to reconsider the SRDP Agri-Environment Climate (AEC) Scheme application window.

The window to apply for this key element of SRDP funding is currently limited to between 16 March and 29 May.  This means that the period for applying to this important rural development scheme coincides with the timeframe in which Scottish farmers will also be required to submit applications to the new Basic Payment Scheme (BPS), which closes on 15 May.

This is the first year of the new BPS, which will replace Single Farm Payment as the nation’s Pillar One support scheme, and it is crucial that claimants focus on getting their IACS 2015 correctly completed, as these will establish their new Basic Payment entitlement for the next few years.  

The Union believes that, instead of the three-month application window, continuous assessment of AEC Scheme applications would ensure regular and sustained investment in the rural economy, for the benefit of the environment.  Continual assessment was an approach originally supported by Scottish Government.

In his letter to Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead, NFUS President Allan Bowie said:

“We were strongly supportive of Scottish Government’s original ambition to have a continuous application process for the AEC Scheme. In a stark change of tack, Scottish Government then announced it was considering a one month application window before announcing its current approach – a three month application window during spring 2015.

“Although that is a step in the right direction, we believe it doesn’t go far enough or recognise the considerable pressures that farmers, and their consultants will be under to get applications to our new CAP schemes correct and on time.  

“To add to the pressure, all applications now need to be made electronically and with this being the first year of the new Basic Payment Scheme, getting IACS details correct in 2015 is likely to take priority.

“Within the new Pillar Two arrangements, many details of the new SRDP are not long announced, and many more await a decision or publication. In addition, fundamental details are still being agreed on direct support rules in Pillar One.  In light of this, NFU Scotland believes that there is a clear risk that farmers or their advisors will either be unable to submit AEC Scheme applications within the available window, or will submit applications that, due to confusing guidance or lack of information, may not meet the required standard.  

“I am aware of the resource and policy pressures that are being experienced by Scottish Government staff at present, but I believe that continuous assessment of AEC Scheme applications would be the best way to ensure investment in the rural economy, for the benefit of the environment, is delivered this year and through the life the 2014-2020 SRDP.

“That is why I have urged Richard Lochhead to reconsider.”  

Ends

Bob Carruth on 0131 472 4006

Date Published:

News Article No.: 32/15


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