The Scottish Government has been accused of doing ‘too little, too late’ after the European Commission effectively blocked its proposals to find an alternative to the burdensome three-crop rule.
The Scottish Government had proposed a policy that would have enabled Scottish farmers to carry out measures deemed ‘equivalent’ to the CAP greening requirement.
The proposed equivalence measures include requirements like over-wintering stubble and green cover.
But the Commission has requested ‘extensive revisions’ to the proposals rendering them ‘virtually unworkable’, according to the Scottish Government.
Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead intends to raise the issue when he visits Brussels next week for the December EU Agriculture and Fisheries Council.
He said: “The three crop rule does not work for Scotland and, in this case, the European Commission is proving a real obstacle to our efforts to find a reasonable and workable alternative.
“This meeting is our last chance to persuade the Commission to allow us to implement our proposals in 2016 – proposals which will help ease the bureaucratic burden for farmers whilst achieving the environmental benefits we are seeking.”
Mr Lochhead said the sort of measures he was proposing for greening in Scotland, increasing the number of birds and insects on farmland that eat pests and pollinate crops and applying the right nutrients to the land, could improve productivity and yields.
He added: “But Greening must meet Scottish needs and I have been listening closely to feedback from the industry.
“That is why we’ve made the very modest new requirement for a permanent grassland nutrient management plan as light touch as possible, after delaying it for a year to give farmers time to prepare."
He highlighted the importance of nitrogen management plans, which many farmers already do, as good agricultural business practice.
NFU Scotland President Allan Bowie said it was ’regrettable that European requirements around a proposed equivalence scheme for Scotland have rendered this approach virtually worthless’.
He added: “We note that the Scottish Government is now making ‘urgent’ efforts at this late stage to find a workable solution to the three-crop rule that would benefit Scottish growers but it smacks of too little, too late.
“How long have Scottish Government known that its equivalence scheme was not going to be a runner?
“And what has it been doing to convince Europe that what it is proposing is to the benefit of the environment?"
He accused Mr Lochhead of making misleading comments about the grassland nutrient management plan.
“It is disappointing that the Cabinet Secretary has suggested that new requirements on grassland are being introduced under equivalence measures as this is completely misleading.
"This is quite simply further gold-plating being introduced by the Scottish Government.”
He said the ‘depth of feeling from grass-roots farmers’ on gold-plated greening brought in at Scottish Government’s insistence’ was made clear to the Cabinet Secretary and his officials at at the recent AgriScot event.
The rules have added unnecessary complexity and place Scottish growers at a competitive disadvantage to fellow farmers in other parts of the UK, he said.
NFUS is due to meet Scottish Government officials in the week before Christmas to discuss the issue.
“Our members want action rather than words to tackle this insidious creep of gold-plating," Mr Bowie said.
“Unless that happens, Scottish Government statements about tackling red tape and simplification will be seen as little more than lip service.”