Sunday, June 22, 2014

Farmers and Scottish independence

Some farmers are passionate about Scottish independence out of personal conviction, but many are cool about the idea. They are uncertain whether it will bring the claimed benefits, particularly given the importance of English markets.

The Scottish National Party argues that Westminster has done a poor job of representing Scotland's farming interests in Brussels. As a result, they argue, Scotland has missed out on billion of pounds in EU subsidies. However, others argue that lower levels of per acre subsidy reflect the low farming value of much of the land in western Scotland.

Farmers account for just 65,000 people out of a total Scottish electorate of four million, but both sides in the referendum debate see them as opinion leaders in rural communities and exerting a influence in the key food and drink industry.

Meanwhile, both sides in the referendum debate are rushing to support EU 'protected geographical status' for Ayrshire early new potatoes. This status has already been secured for Arbroath smokies, Scottish salmon and Stornoway black pudding.

There is a broad income range in Scottish farms with the gap between the richest and the poorest farms amounting to £102,000. The bottom 25 per cent of farms saw a loss of £14,000 in 2013 while the top quartile averaged a farm business income (effectively net profit) of £88,000.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Green peas lead to row

New CAP rules require that large arable farmers ensure that five per cent of their land is set aside as an ecological focus area (EFA). The Government has caused controversy by deciding that one of the five options available to farmers to meet the crops will be planting nitrogen fixing crops such as field beans and peas.

Environmental groups argued that this would bring no wildlife benefits, while the RSPB branded the policy 'a wasted opportunity for the environment'. However, Defra minister Owen Paterson defended it in terms of the imperative of food security. For the NFU Meurig Raymond said that it represented 'a pragmatic solution to a very difficult situation.' In other words, smart lobbying by the NFU.