HOPES THAT Scotland's reformed farm support system might do more to encourage hill livestock have been revived during a "very helpful" meeting between Defra secretary of state Owen Paterson and Scottish rural affairs CabSec Richard Lochhead in Edinburgh this week.

Despite the idea being firmly ruled out little over a month ago, it has now been confirmed that Scotland can indeed couple up to 13% of its budget to headage-based schemes targeting actual farming activity — a rise from the current 8%, and a possible balance to the cash redistribution soon to be wrought by the overall shift towards area-based payments.

Such production incentives are very much out of fashion in Europe, and Mr Paterson himself is a vocal advocate of a wholesale move away from coupled mechanisms.

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But faced with Scotland's CAP budget being frittered away on flat-rate payments to vast tracts of unpro­ductive hill ground, the argument for extra coupling as a means to direct support back towards farmers actually keeping animals on those hills has refused to go away.

Speaking from Edinburgh, Mr Paterson said: "Over the last few months we've been working very closely with the Scottish Government and NFU Scotland to see if the coupling regime could be extended further to cope with the unique and difficult socio-economic challenges of farming in rough grazing areas.

"I was pleased to confirm to Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead today that following complex negotiations with the European Commission, Scotland does have the freedom to work up a scheme using 13% coupling.

"It's now up to the Scottish government to decide whether to resolve the problem of rough grazing areas via a coupled or area payment scheme. Whichever option is decided upon, we agreed that the allocation would come entirely from the Scottish budget and that any legal or disallowance cost would be borne by them."

Mr Lochhead said: "Clearly, if we are to use UK flexibility for a higher rate of coupled support, then the scheme will have to be designed so that it can only apply in Scotland. The scheme would have to be entirely funded from the Scottish CAP budget."

For in-depth news and views on Scottish agriculture, see this Friday's issue of The Scottish Farmer or visit www.thescottishfarmer.co.uk