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Rural Affairs Secretary: Commission must reconsider three crop rule
The three crop rule must be front and centre of the European Commission's forthcoming review of Greening, Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead has urged.
Mr Lochhead made the call after the Commission dashed Scottish Government hopes of introducing in 2016 a reasonable and workable alternative which would benefit the environment and help to ease the bureaucratic burden for farmers.
The Rural Affairs Secretary met high-ranking Commission officials in Brussels last week to press the case for Scottish equivalence proposals which would have allowed farmers to have stubbles or cover crops on 25 per cent of their arable land over the winter months instead of meeting the crop diversification requirement.
Mr Lochhead said:
"The three crop rule does not work for Scotland, and has already resulted in a fall in barley production.
"The very reasonable and workable alternatives put forward by the Scottish Government are based on advice from Scottish environmental organisations and research institutes that the ecological benefits would be the same as or even better than Europe's standard crop diversification measures. It is bitterly disappointing that this has not been taken on board by the European Commission, which continues to insist on revisions that are so extensive they make our proposals virtually unworkable.
"Time has now run out to persuade the European Commission to allow Scotland to introduce our proposals for crop diversification equivalence in 2016. But I will not let this matter drop, which is why I am calling for Commissioner Hogan to put the three crop rule front and centre in his promised review of Greening, which is due to begin next year."
Scottish Government officials have also met with NFUS representatives to update them on these developments and to discuss with them in more detail a variety of greening issues they have raised.
Following that meeting, Mr Lochhead further clarified the detailed implementation rules for Ecological Focus Areas (EFAs). It means farmers don't have to plough EFA green cover for it to count as Greening – other methods of incorporation can be acceptable – and field margins for EFA nitrogen fixing crops can be delivered around the boundary, rather than around each crop.
Mr Lochhead continued:
"Greening must meet Scottish needs which is why we rightly based our greening policies – which were announced last year – on our work with NFUS and environmental interest groups.
"I have been listening closely to feedback from the industry and can confirm today that the Scottish Government has clarified the detailed implementation rules for EFAs, which should make things simpler for farmers.
"As I have already made clear, I will consider reviewing Scotland's greening approach if it is not delivering the intended outcomes. That is why we are currently developing robust monitoring arrangements which will help to inform this vital evaluation."
Greening is a new element of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), where a third of the direct farm payment budget is ring-fenced for environmental schemes.
The Scottish Government had proposed that farmers should be able to choose alternatives to the three crop rule, namely having catch crops over the winter or another form of winter soil cover - including stubbles – on 25 per cent of the arable area. This is based on advice from environmental organisations that the environmental benefits would be equivalent to Europe's standard crop diversification measures. However, the European Commission has fed back that stubble is not an acceptable form of winter soil cover, and that a new crop would need to be planted on 100 per cent of the arable area.