WE ARE hearing warning bells from south of the Border already with regard to the new ‘greening’ arrangements for payment qualification.

Some very large and hitherto productive agricultural units are signing up for payments under the new Environmental Land Management scheme which will effectively net some colossal amounts of money for not doing very much at all. And who could blame the landowners, many of them institutional, from maximising income from their holdings, whilst also downsizing much of their capital investment in expensive machinery and labour.

In this year of weather extremes, it also removes much of the risk and cost involved in maintaining, for example, an intensive arable operation. So, for the hard headed amongst them, it is – as they say – ‘a no brainer’.

Effectively, this will rule out production of quality food from thousands of hectares of very good land. But ... and it’s a big but ... while the butterflies and bees schemes will, in fact, allow the land to still be available to return fairly easily to agricultural use, the obliteration of some very productive, if upland land, in Scotland, in favour of trees, will not be so. It will be a mountainous job to return that to production.

This newspaper has long campaigned for the increasingly supported forestry sector to be dovetailed into agricultural interests in an objective manner, with a stop put to afforestation of land capable of supporting a range of productive farming enterprises and by doing so, supporting a local community. Replace livestock with trees and you take away the very lifeblood that employment brings to many rural outposts from the Borders to the Hebrides.

As Jim Brown points out in this week's 'Farm View' column, there are vast swathes of Scotland currently beneath whin bushes and rushes – that are producing ticks and not very much else – that would be suitable for planting. But there must be some resistance put up to seeing the more fertile land being gobbled up at a great rates of knots by a seemingly unplanned rush to fill acres with trees. And not a sensible mix of flora at that.

And, as The SF has also pointed out, there is much evidence to show that well-managed grassland has the ability to outscore trees on carbon sequestration. The ability to turn marginal acres into profitable acres from a farming standpoint is also being re-invented all the time, with novel fodder crops and the likes leading the way. Add-in modern management tools and techniques, and we have a fruitful way of not only maintaining a social strata in rural areas, but also adding value to the land.

ScotGov set its stall out recently with its £150m afforestation package, against supporting inventive agriculture with just £10m. That is a pendulum that has swung too far and so it would be good if the likes of the Suckler Beef Climate Group’s initial findings could be made public to bolster the argument that ‘farming lives do matter!’