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'C-Day' for CAP reform

CAP REFORM is at last gaining momentum, with all the political indications pointing to a final package being put to the European Parliament before the end of June.

BEEF BRAINS gathered in Stirling, from left, QMS boffin Stuart Ashworth, SNP MEP Alyn Smith, SBCA president John Cameron and the SAC's Douglas Bell
BEEF BRAINS gathered in Stirling, from left, QMS boffin Stuart Ashworth, SNP MEP Alyn Smith, SBCA president John Cameron and the SAC's Douglas Bell

That was the confident prediction given by MEP Alyn Smith as he addressed a cross section of the Scottish beef industry in Bridge of Allan, in advance of this week's vote on the legislative side of the package.

Mr Smith said: "This vote is a crucial stage in creating the new CAP, as it will essentially decide the position of the Parliament going into negotiations with the member state governments in the council. This is 'C-day'."

While the big question on everyone's lips was the size of the overall budget, Mr Smith believed that if sensible agreement could be hammered out by the European Council before the end of March, then it was likely that the Irish presidency could see ministers coralled into reaching a CAP decision by the end of June.

As far as Scotland was concerned, there were a number of plus factors in this scenario – the likelihood of a €300,000 upper limit on single farm payments, the introduction of greening proposals delayed for a year because the ins and outs were still unclear, and – possibly the best news of all – that any changes to the LFA system be parked for two years to see how the new CAP system bedded in.

On the downside, said Mr Smith, Scotland was unlikely to get much support from the UK Government, as highlighted in a letter from Prime Minister David Cameron rejecting the Scottish Beef Cattle Association's call for targeted headage payments.

SBCA chairman, Scott Henderson, wrote to Mr Cameron just before Christmas seeking Defra's support to use the measures available to member states for coupled payments to support the Scottish Beef Calf Scheme.

In Mr Cameron's reply, received via Defra minister David Heath, it was made clear that no such help would be forthcoming, stating that the government was committed to continue 'the good progress' it had made in reducing such coupled payments.

The letter added: "I am aware that by agreement with the previous administration the Scottish Government is currently allowed to use part of the English share of the existing UK ceiling in order to fund the Scottish Beef Calf Scheme.

"Once revised ceilings are agreed at member state level as part of the reform, there will need to be further discussions beteen UK Government and all of the devolved administrations on how these are applied in future."

This brought an angry reaction from SBCA president, John Cameron, who stated: "This response from Defra indicates that our industry leaders have to fight Scottish farming's corner not only in corridors of Brussels but also with the UK Government.

"Given what Mr Smith has forecast and the response to our letter to the Prime Minister, this indicates that our battle with the UK Government might be the toughest."

But the number one concern in all the CAP reform for Scotland will be how the new single farm payment will be shared out under an area-based system. SAC's Douglas Bell said the only certainty from the move from historic to area-based payments was that there would be winners and losers.

According to Mr Bell, the Scottish Government was leaning towards a regional payment system based on just two regions – but that in his view would result in a huge difference between the best and the worst farming land. In his view, a three region system would be the fairest.

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