Pressure is piling on the UK Government to guarantee cash for farmers across Britain after the Conservatives appeared to break their manifesto pledge to maintain farm support until 2022.
NFU Scotland vice president Gary Mitchell called for ‘clarity’ on what the election promise meant after a junior minister at the Scotland Office, Lord Duncan, announced the Scottish Less Favoured Area Support Scheme (LFASS) would only get Treasury backing until 2019.
Lord Duncan claimed the new £42 million fund for 2019, which is classed as rural development cash and not direct payments, would benefit 11,300 farmers and crofters.
But NFUS suggested losing the money, which it views as farm support, would leave the most fragile hill farming businesses in danger of closing.
Union president Andrew McCornick said: “The announcement from the UK Government provides greater certainty over the whole rural development budget for Scotland in 2019.
“However, we want them to go further. Hill farming is a long-term commitment and breeding and management decisions being made this autumn will have an impact many years into the future.
“The UK Government has already committed to funding levels for direct support payments until 2022.
“It is imperative that the UK Government now makes a similar commitment on rural development funding for the same timeframe.”
The refusal to guarantee Scottish rural development cash beyond 2019 has sparked fears elsewhere in the UK about the credibility of Westminster’s promises.
A Welsh Government spokesman told Farmers Guardian the issue of uncertainty around future funding had been repeatedly raised with its officials.
“In March, the Cabinet Secretary committed the final tranche of the 2014-2020 Rural Development Programme, totalling £223 million, to make full use of funding available to the Welsh Government under the UK Government’s guarantee”, he said.
“There remains an urgent need though for a longer-term commitment from the UK Government and to make good on promises made during the referendum campaign that Wales would not lose a single penny as a result of the UK leaving the EU.”
NFUS’ demands for more certainty on funding came as the simmering row over convergence uplift cash reignited again.
EU rules have forced the Scottish Government to make changes to the LFASS, which will cease to exist in its current form after this year.
As a result of the move to a ‘parachute’ payment in 2018, the budget will be slashed by £40 million, leading the Scottish Conservatives to accuse the Government of ‘turning its back on rural Scotland’.
Plug the gap
But Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing claimed he would be able to ‘plug the gap’ if the UK Government handed over £160 million of convergence uplift money which ‘belonged to Scotland’.
“It has failed to do this despite promising to do so and despite me pressing this matter with UK Ministers on several occasions”, he said.
A Defra spokesman told Farmers Guardian the £42 million LFASS cash would give Scottish farmers certainty.
“We have also underlined our support for farmers across the UK by guaranteeing the current cash total in farm support funds up to 2022”, he added.