The Scottish Government has imposed restrictive rules on the growing of nitrogen fixing crops which could mean Scottish farmers lose out on financial support.
Under the EU’s regulations, which come into force on 1st January 2015, farmers with more than 15 hectares of arable land must use 5% of it as an Ecological Focus Area (EFA) to benefit the environment and climate.
This is known as ‘greening’ and can include the use of nitrogen fixing crops, which are valuable in minimising the use of artificial fertilisers and benefitting water quality.
However, the Scottish Government’s new guidance requires more than one crop to be planted, an annual harvest and maintenance of field margins.
Farmers who do not meet these requirements could see a reduction in farm support. By an NFU estimate, in 2015 this could mean the loss of more than 30% of their direct payments.
Similar requirements have not been imposed on English farmers by the UK government
NFU Scotland has been heavily critical of this move expressing ‘deep disappointment’ and saying it ‘severely limits’ options for Scottish growers.
Galloway MSP Alex Fergusson said: “These measures highlight the hypocrisy of the Scottish Government, which is always keen to criticise Westminster for ‘gold-plating’ EU regulations, but are now constraining Scottish farmers by being unnecessarily strict in the interpretation of greening measures.
“The EU provided flexibility to member states about how greening rules are applied, but the Scottish Government has taken a restrictive approach.
“This could mean less land is used for the benefit of the environment, but it is Scottish farmers who are set to lose out on financial support.
“Farmers are vital for the Scottish economy and we need to look for more ways to support them rather than jeopardising their funding through overzealous regulation.”