Scottish farming leaders have welcomed yesterday's vote by the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee to remove the electronic identification (EID) from cross-compliance measures in its proposals to reform the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

Speaking from Brussels after a second day of deliberation, committee member, SNP MEP Alyn Smith acknowledged the vote was just the first step in a long process of negotiations and said: "From today's votes, we have a major scoop. We have seen all SMRs (Statutory Management Requirements) relating to animal ID deleted, meaning sheep EID would be taken out of cross-compliance altogether.

"I know all too well just how much of a relief this would be to so many of our farmers."

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Acknowledging the vote was just the first step in a long process of negotiations, Mr Smith went on: "Of course, we'll need to see how it fares in plenary and in negotiations with council, but certainly the committee has made a very clear statement today."

LibDem MEP George Lyon also welcomed the move saying: "Forcing sheep farmers to jump through hoops to maintain their Single Farm Payments is simply not right.

"The Scottish industry has bent over backwards to comply with EID rules, but it has been clear since the legislation came into force they are unworkable for the majority of Scottish sheep farmers."

Also acknowledging the committee's vote was not a "done-deal", Mr Lyon added: "While this is only half-time in the 'CAP game' the Commission will have to reconsider their hard-line approach to EID and cross-compliance before final negotiations begin in March."

NFU Scotland's director for policy, Jonnie Hall also welcomed the MEPs' vote and pointed out: "They also, helpfully called for cross-compliance to be carried out 'in an efficient, risk-based and proportionate, coherent and non-discriminatory way'. In that vein, they said administrative penalties are not to be imposed for non-compliance which is due to technical failure of the systems for identification and registrations of animals.

"We also back MEP calls for penalties to be proportionate and that for first time offences a warning system, backed by checks to ensure remedial action has been taken, should be sufficient to avoid a penalty being imposed.

"These are common sense approaches to a cross-compliance penalty system that, every year, causes a great deal of worry and concern to Scots farmers.

"It is also of benefit to Scottish farmers that MEPs are keen to avoid any further legislative burden on farmers and have called for the Water Framework Directive and the Sustainable Use Directive not to be included in cross-compliance requirements."

Farm consultants, accountants and lawyers will also be rubbing their hands with glee at Wednesday's vote on capping direct payments to any one farm. That could lead to a lot of extra work for them as large farm businesses split into smaller units to avoid hefty financial penalties.

The proposed top limit has been set at €300,000, with payments to those receiving between €250,000 and €300,000 reduced by 70%, and by 40% for those receiving between €200,000 and €250,000. Payments to farms receiving between €150,000 and €200,000 would by cut by 20%.

MEPs also said differences among EU member states in the levels of EU funding farmers receive should be reduced slightly faster than the Commission proposed.

Under the new rules, no member state's farmers should receive less than 65% of the EU average, as they found it difficult to accept differences of roughly €300 per hectare between farmers in different member states.

The rate of payments to within each state could also be made equal by 2019, but to avoid sudden sharp falls in support that could jeopardise the viability of many farms, MEPs added that member states should still be allowed to deviate from the average by up to 20%.

Market round-up

UNITED Auctions sold 579 store bullocks at Stirling on Wednesday to a top of 242.8p per kg and an average of 207.3p (+10p on the week), while 473 store heifers peaked at 246.6p and levelled at 199p (no change).

In the rough ring 144 cast cows averaged 122.5p.