Reward Scottish farming for the public benefits it produces, says committee

10/03/2011

A reformed Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) must take better account of the wide range of public goods produced by Scottish agriculture, according to a report published today by the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee.

The committee report on the future of agricultural support in Scotland describes food production as a “public good”, and says that public intervention is justified to prevent market failure, avoid shortages, and ensure stable prices. The report warns that Scotland’s own food security is declining and that a reformed CAP, which must be agreed by 1 January 2014, should encourage local food production.

However, the committee also says that the public goods delivered by Scottish agriculture go far beyond producing food for the consumer and include carbon capture, enhancing biodiversity, ensuring economic activity in remote and island communities, and protecting Scotland’s iconic landscapes. A reformed CAP must provide better incentives to go on producing these public goods which the market does not reward.

The committee therefore expresses concern at initial proposals from the UK Department of Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) calling for the CAP budget to be cut and for a gradual phasing out of direct payments to working farmers. The report also describes it as “totally unacceptable” that Scotland’s average share of rural development funding is lower than any member state in the European Union, despite the huge challenges of farming rugged and often remote terrain.

Committee Convener Maureen Watt MSP said:

“The main conclusion of our report is clear – the world is facing many huge challenges, which agriculture can help to tackle. Scottish farmers have much to offer. Sadly, we are not currently receiving a fair share of CAP funding, which properly recognises the challenges we face in Scotland, or the contribution we can make in addressing those global challenges.

The committee strongly supports the introduction of a simplified, fairer and up-to-date CAP. For instance, a move away from payments based on production from a decade ago would be a step in the right direction, putting an end to the so-called “slipper farmers” and ensuring that the active hard-working farmers of today are rewarded. However, we must ensure that any new basis for allocating payments recognises the challenges of farming land in Scotland, and ends the deeply worrying trend of land abandonment, which has been going on in our hill and island communities in recent years.”

The committee also made a number of other recommendations:

  • The committee supports a transition (over an appropriate phased-in period to avoid complications) from a payment system based on historic effort to one based on area. However, safeguards must be built in to take account of the “less favoured area” status of most Scottish land.
  • The next Scottish Administration should urgently address the challenges of encouraging new entrants into the farming industry.
  • It commends the work of Brian Pack and his team on their report on financial support to agriculture in Scotland and hopes that both the Scottish and UK governments will take forward a number of its recommendations.
  • The committee wants to see more coherence between agricultural support and land use, to move towards a rural development strategy for Scotland.

Background

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in the European Union is the method of delivering the EU-wide agricultural support. The current CAP finishes at the end of 2013 and negotiations for its replacement are well under way.

The term ‘slipper farmer’ is used to describe farmers who have scaled down production, or retired, but are still in receipt of CAP payments, due to payments for the current CAP being based on production levels between 2000 and 2002.

Less Favoured Area (LFA) – 85% of Scotland’s land is classified as being ‘less favoured’, meaning that it is generally only suitable for rough grazing.

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Nick Hawthorne: 0131 348 5221
Email: peter.mcgrath@scottish.parliament.uk

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