SCOTTISH FARMERS face a Spring of frantic form-filling, as they attempt to navigate the new bureaucracy ushered in by Common Agricultural Policy reform - but the Scottish Government could help ease this paperwork pain by reconsidering some of its deadlines.
According to the National Farmers Union Scotland, ScotGov has it in its power to widen at least one of the application 'windows' that farmers will soon be shooting for, and thus reduce the time pressure they will be under at what is already a busy time of the farming year.
2015 will be the first year of the new Basic Payment Scheme, which will replace Single Farm Payment as the nation's Pillar One support scheme, and the union reckons that farmers must focus on getting the qualifying form for that correctly completed, as it will establish their Basic Payment for the next few years. Those applications must be in by May 15.
Loading article content
Unfortunately, applications to the second stream of EU-funded support cash, the agri-environment schemes organised under the new Scottish Rural Development Programme, have been limited to a similar timeframe, open from March 16 and May 29.
This administrative clash was verbally raised with Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead at NFU Scotland's recent AGM and the union has now written to the CabSec formally asking him to reconsider the SRDP Agri-Environment Climate Scheme application window.
In his letter to the CabSec, new NFUS president Allan Bowie said: "We were strongly supportive of Scottish Government's original ambition to have a continuous application process for the AEC Scheme. In a stark change of tack, Scottish Government then announced it was considering a one month application window before announcing its current approach - a three month application window during spring 2015.
"Although that is a step in the right direction, we believe it doesn't go far enough or recognise the considerable pressures that farmers, and their consultants will be under to get applications to our new CAP schemes correct and on time.
"To add to the pressure, all applications now need to be made electronically and with this being the first year of the new Basic Payment Scheme, getting IACS details correct in 2015 is likely to take priority," said Mr Bowie.
"Within the new Pillar Two arrangements, many details of the new SRDP are not long announced, and many more await a decision or publication," he noted. "In addition, fundamental details are still being agreed on direct support rules in Pillar One.
"In light of this, NFUS believes that there is a clear risk that farmers or their advisors will either be unable to submit AEC Scheme applications within the available window, or will submit applications that, due to confusing guidance or lack of information, may not meet the required standard.
"I am aware of the resource and policy pressures that are being experienced by Scottish Government staff at present, but I believe that continuous assessment of AEC Scheme applications would be the best way to ensure investment in the rural economy, for the benefit of the environment, is delivered this year and through the life the 2014-2020 SRDP."
- For in-depth news and views on Scottish agriculture, see this Friday's issue of The Scottish Farmer or visit www.thescottishfarmer.co.uk