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Union Calls for Amnesty on Land Eligibility Penalties

NFU Scotland has called on the Scottish Government to introduce an immediate amnesty on penalties associated with eligibility of land for support scheme purposes after the failure to provide Scottish farmers with proper guidance on the subject.

Anyone claiming Single Farm Payment (SFP) or Less Favoured Area Support (LFASS) requires a hectare of eligible land to activate a unit of SFP entitlement or an LFASS payment. SFP and LFASS are such an important part of the cash flow of most Scottish farm businesses that the ongoing confusion and uncertainty over what ground is deemed eligible and ineligible is causing real concern.

The amnesty call has been made in respect of those farmers uncertain of how to properly fill out their 2010 application forms for these schemes, due to be completed by 17 May, and those farmers who have suffered retrospective penalties on their 2009 Single Farm Payments as a result of land previously used to claim support payments now being deemed ineligible under inspection last year.

In addition to the amnesty, NFU Scotland has asked Scottish Government to consider two other routes for those hit by the tightening of land eligibility rules.   Given this information was not available when SFP was first allocated across land, affected producers should be allowed to explore the option of recalculating their SFP entitlements, removing ineligible land from their base area.   Alternatively, producers should be given the option of having their eligible area calculated taking the slope of the land into consideration rather than the flat-mapping system currently used.   Building relief into the area calculation would free up additional land and allow any affected producer the ability to make full use of his SFP entitlements.

NFU Scotland President Jim McLaren said:

“It is unacceptable that a few days from the IACS deadline, thousands of producers are little clearer on the issue of land eligibility than they were a year ago.  There have now been some public meetings but no clear information has been issued with the SAF paperwork either last year or this year.  Many remain unaware that areas of bracken, gorse and scree can all be deemed ineligible and are now subject to stricter enforcement.  Under inspection last year, several farmers in Scotland were caught out by a more rigorous interpretation of eligible and ineligible land. They were caught out by a new interpretation of the rules last year and have suffered significant penalties under inspection through no fault of their own, with no opportunity to correct the situation and with no guidance on this new interpretation of the rules.    A year on and the situation is little improved with no clear guidance in farmers’ hands.

“The situation surrounding the eligibility of ground affected by bracken is probably the most frustrating for farmers. Invariably there is some grazing value within bracken for most of the year and producers need to know what degree of cover from bracken or whins will tip land into the ‘ungrazeable’ category and make it ineligible.  We believe that ground covered with bracken but has grass and herbage suitable for grazing under the bracken canopy is eligible.   If Scottish Government disagrees with that, then they need to inform claimants immediately.     

“Many are trying to fill in claim forms again this year without clear guidance, hence the need for an amnesty on penalties not just for those completing forms this year but for those caught by the rule changes last year.  We have tried to inform members as best we can but even we have found our hands tied by lack of clarity on how inspectors will approach this issue on the ground.

“I want to be clear; this is not about trying to circumvent rules.  This is about the goalposts having shifted and farmers and them now finding themselves losing support through no fault of their own.”

Ends

Contact Bob Carruth on 0131 472 4006

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