‘Most intensive and wide-ranging audit’ of regulation enforcement

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The earliest harvest for many a long year has been brought to a sudden halt this week with the change of weather but let’s hope it will be a temporary stalling rather that the start of the rainy season. Most winter crops will have been secured effortlessly and in good condition but the important spring barley crop – much of which will be destined for the premium malting market - has still to be harvested. Driving around the countryside a considerable amount of brown ground can be seen, indicating that the ploughing of fields which were harvested early has already been completed. This should enable the early sowing of oilseed rape, which is vital, and augurs well for the future.

Mid-summer is well known in journalism as the “silly season” when hard news stories are hard to come by and newspapers are full of “silly” stories dredged up by desperate newsdesks to fill column inches.

But it doesn’t apply to agriculture, and even although Parliament has risen and Brussels virtually closes down for the month of August, there is still plenty of hard news around for agri hacks to get their teeth into.

Farmers busy with harvest probably haven’t had the opportunity to digest two major reports published in the past couple of weeks but they should take the time to read them as both could – and should – reap benefits for farmers and their families.

The first is Brian Pack’s long awaited “Doing Better Initiative,” referred to in last week’s column, containing no fewer than 61 recommendations to reduce red tape in the applications of the myriad of rules and regulations which farmers have to contend with.

The report has been welcomed by NFU Scotland whose president, Nigel Miller, in his regular blog, has described it as the “most intense and wide ranging” audit of regulation enforcement, and the culture of the enforcement agencies, ever carried out in agriculture.

He sees immediate wins in the adoption of coefficients for officially designated rough grazing regions (RGR) to provide a 10% tolerance on mapping the claimed area as support moves to an area based system from next year and a dynamic approach to the management of Nitrogen Vulnerable Zone areas to help regions move out regulation as water quality improves.

He also sees scope for simplifying the regulations covering the electronic identification of sheep and the adoption of traceability data bases to create electronic flock and herd registers to reduce or eliminate the risk of compliance traps and the risk of “dead” passport penalties. That would be a useful start and it will be important that the Pack recommendations are acted on and the report not consigned to a shelf to gather dust.

The second report from the Health and Safety Executive highlights the tragic toll of deaths or serious injuries on farms over the past 10 years which has resulted in the launch at the Black Isle Show last week of the Farm Safety Scotland Partnership – a joint initiative with NFU Scotland, NFU Mutual and the Scottish Government – to improve the safety record of those who live and work on Scotland’s farms.

The report shows that, over the past decade, almost 80 men, women and children have died on Scottish farms and, significantly, more have been badly injured as a result of farming activities - bringing heartbreak and misery to Scottish families and rural communities each year.

The campaign leaflet, Working Together to Save Lives, outlines the four most common dangers on farms – falls, animals, transport and equipment. Farmers are urged not to leave their safety to fate.

“Every single tragedy is one too many and it is essential that everyone working in the industry understands the risks and takes every available precaution to stay as safe as possible,” said Cabinet Secretary, Richard Lochhead, in launching the initiative.

The last week has also seen the launch of SRUC’s “Focus on Figures” initiative, supported by QMS, to help beef and sheep farmers to work out their accurate cost of production and help them cope with reductions in EU support.

The North-east is set to lose an estimated £23 million per year of support by 2019 under recent reforms of the Common Agricultural Policy.

The initiative will concentrate on breaking down the figures to a cost per kilo of meat produced which farmers will be able to benchmark against other farmers within their group and against the national average to help them identify areas where efficiency can be improved and costs produced.

It is an important initiative because, without knowing accurate production costs, it is impossible for farmers to manage their business and take the necessary action to improve financial performance.

Heavy losses have been incurred by many beef producers in recent months following the collapse in beef prices but there are welcome signs that the market is strengthening although prices are u n l i k e l y t o r e a c h t h e d i unlikely to reach the dizzy heights of last year.

Scotland is also about to embark on an unprecedented campaign to promote Scotch lamb at a time when supermarkets are being criticised for failing to commit enough shelf space to home-produced lamb as the marketing season reaches its peak.

Asda, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Tesco have all come under fire for continuing to offer old season New Zealand and Australian lamb through June and July and destabilising the market for Scotch lamb.

All except Asda have now come into line and, to their credit, Aldi, Lidl and Morrisons have been selling 100% Scottish lamb throughout the season.

It is disappointing that Asda has not yet made the move and that M and S, Sainsbury’s and Tesco have taken so long to get back to home-produced supplies.

So much for their much-vaunted commitment to British – and Scottish – agriculture.