CAP 2013 – For Scottish farmers and future generations of farmers, it is critical we get reform right
In the latest in a series of exclusive articles for Endeavour Public Affairs about the rural economy and the 2013 reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy, Richard Lochhead MSP, writes that farming has been part of Scotland’s history for generations, and is the bedrock of so many of our rural communities. He argues that CAP reform will shape the future of Scotland’s farming industry and it’s critical for Scottish farmers, and future generations of farmers, that they get it right.
Richard Lochhead represents the Moray Constituency as a Scottish National Party MSP in The Scottish Parliament, and is also the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment in the Scottish Government.
2013 is set to be a critical year for Scotland’s farmers as decisions are reached on the ongoing reform of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
The decisions which are currently being taken in Europe will have far-reaching ramifications and our farmers and crofters will feel the effects for years to come.
From the outset of the negotiations I have been arguing for a fair deal for Scotland’s farmers.
I’m a passionate believer in the importance of farming and fully appreciate the value that our hard-working farmers bring to the nation.
Not only do they produce many of the natural ingredients which form the basis of our successful food and drink industry, but they also act as custodians for our magnificent countryside.
CAP reform should – and does – matter to every farmer in Scotland. But it should also be a concern for anyone with even a passing interest in our rural communities, countryside or the food on their plates.
Many of our farmers rely on direct payments to keep their businesses viable. And if our farmers went out of business we’d quickly find that stocks in Scotland’s natural larder would start to dwindle.
That’s why we need a CAP that is flexible enough to meet Scotland’s diverse needs and recognises that these are not necessarily the same as other parts of the UK.
For instance, farmers south of the border general have highly fertile land, with easy access to markets and terrain which is generally good.
Contrast that with Scotland where 85 per cent of our land qualifies for less favoured area status – that’s the exact opposite of the situation in England. Our farmers face many challenges, as anyone who is familiar with Scotland’s dramatic yet challenging landscape can tell at a glance or anyone who has experienced a Scottish winter.
Yet Scotland is already short-changed by the current CAP deal. We are arguing for this situation to be addressed and for our farmers to get their fair share of the funding.
Currently Scotland gets the fourth lowest rate of direct payments per hectare in Europe – only Latvia, Romania and Estonia languish beneath us. The story for pillar two is even worse – Scotland’s rate per hectare is actually the lowest of all member states and the lowest in the UK.
This highlights how important it is for us to be represented in the political horse trading which goes on in Brussels, where deals are done in corridors and ministers sound each other out at informal meetings.
Scotland’s farmers need to have someone speaking up for them where the deals are done. Yet, the existing system means Scotland won’t even have a seat at the table where the crucial decisions are made – so we’re depending on UK Ministers in London to hear the voice of Scottish agriculture. They must start listening and responding or our farmers and crofters will pay the price.
Throughout the CAP reform process I have made clear that I would fight to get a fair deal for Scotland’s farmers. As we enter this crucial year, I will redouble my efforts to ensure the unique needs of Scotland’s farmers are understood in both Brussels and Westminster and will make sure that the UK Government are left in no doubt about our position.
One of our key principles is to make sure that support is targeted toward farmers who are genuinely active and producing for the nation. I believe it’s crucial that we remember the importance of maintaining our food supplies when considering support for farmers. Too often, in the past this vital end result has been forgotten by the EU.
And when it comes to the ‘greening’ of the CAP, I also find myself returning to the issue of food production. While I have no objection to the principal of greening we must ensure it does not end up being counter productive.
It’s also vital that the CAP offers support for new entrants. We believe those farmers who are excluded from the current regime must be included from day one in the new regime.
If Scotland were independent our calculations have shown that our farmers would be substantially better off under the proposals for the future CAP. But we have to deal with the here and now. That’s why I’ll continue pushing UK ministers to ensure we get the best possible deal out of these once in a generation reforms.
Farming has been part of Scotland’s history for generations, and is the bedrock of so many of our rural communities. CAP reform will shape the future of our farming industry and it’s critical for our farmers, and future generations of farmers, that we get it right.