18 May 2015


15 May is a big day of stress for farmers.  It is the day their IACS form must be submitted, through which all their subsidy payments are claimed. Few farms in Scotland could survive without this money.
Field BoundariesWebAny mistakes on your IACS form will generate penalty payments or, even more damaging, a significant delay in your money being received. The basis of these forms is your IACS farm map, on which different parcels of land are given a different number, and you refer to these on your submitted form, telling the authorities what you are doing and where.
On the face of it, it all seems sensible enough.
The problem is in the detail. The Scottish Government mapping geeks are very fond of creating a multitude of fields and Field Identification Numbers (FIDs) for you. These FID numbers have 12 digits. Within each FID, there may be several things going on. Each requires a separate line. The numbers must all add up. If they don’t, a query will be triggered, and your form will go back to the bottom of the pile, to be addressed when the others are cleared.

Unwarned Changes
This year, the maps were changed without warning, and many farmers received maps with completely new FID numbers. Boundaries were changed and sub-divided. Many of the changes did not really make any sense. Sometimes, land belonging to other people was included, bits that should be included were not, and suppositions made about what a farmer was doing or not doing in different areas. In short, lots of mistakes were introduced. So, in addition to a farmer needing to be careful about not making any mistakes himself, he now had to try and interpret the mistakes made by others. Of course, their wages remain unaffected. They are not penalised.
The system is apparently designed to be complicated, simply because it is possible to do this. When asked to simplify the process, the Scottish Government insist that its hands are tied by EU rules. It is a convenient excuse. I don’t subscribe to this view myself, although there might be something in this. Maybe.


“...We need to do things differently in Europe. We need more flexibility to do things our own way. We need to be doing more and they need to be doing less. That way, we can come up with ideas that make sense to us, and our politicians and officials will no longer have the luxury of blaming someone else...”

Stop Micro Management
Two years ago, I went on a visit to the European Parliament with the Rural Leadership Programme. Many of those who went came back more Euro-sceptic than when they went there. The message that I took away is that we should try to change the way in which Europe works. The EU should be setting the direction of travel, ensuring that common standards apply across the many countries involved, and promoting and protecting the common market.  Europe should not be micro-managing the fine detail, simply because there is too much complexity across Europe to create a one-size fits all.
Europe should not be telling us how to map our farmland, any more than it should be telling us how to do a whole range of other tasks, none of which are part of its core rationale.
It is difficult to discuss this in Scotland at the moment as everything is viewed through the prism of the “national question”, and therefore massively distorted, but I do believe that Prime Minister Cameron is fundamentally right, and that there is also an appetite in other EU countries for change as well. We need to do things differently in Europe. We need more flexibility to do things our own way. We need to be doing more and they need to be doing less. That way, we can come up with ideas that make sense to us, and our politicians and officials will no longer have the luxury of blaming someone else.
In such a situation, the run up to 15 May is only one of many areas that we could improve out of all recognition by finding a better way, unconstrained by unnecessary EU rules, either real or imagined.

Victor Clements
He is a woodland advisor working in Highland Perthshire

 

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