NFU Scotland has called upon the Scottish government to act with ‘urgency and certainty’ to plug the 20 per cent funding gap faced by farmers and crofters in Scotland’s less-favoured areas.
As it stands, payments for the 2019 Less Favoured Areas Support Scheme (LFASS), due in Spring 2020, are to fall to 80 per cent of their 2018 levels – dropping £13 million from the £65m budget – with the 2020 scheme year expecting a funding cut to 60 per cent of 2018 levels.
Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy Fergus Ewing has been told first-hand about the issue by NFU Scotland (NFUS), once by the union’s board of directors and again with its LFA committee.
NFUS said it welcomed Scottish government’s parliamentary statement in January of its intention to ‘effectively reinstate funding levels to 100 per cent of LFASS’, but said it must also commit to making de minimis payments to LFASS applicants under the state aid provisions or identify another deliverable solution.
In a letter to Mr Ewing, NFUS president Andrew McCornick said: “Recognising that we cannot simply top-up LFASS, we are seeking immediate and effective action by Scottish government to address the LFASS 2019 shortfall of some 20 per cent.
“At a time when political noise drowns out practical need, those farming and crofting Scotland’s more disadvantaged land need certainty and support.”
Mr McCornick said the union’s Brexit survey showed confidence levels among farmers and crofters were ‘eroding at an alarming rate’.
He said many had already faced poorer market returns and increased costs to their business, related to Brexit uncertainty.
The union’s LFASS survey, carried out in 2018, also indicated that eight out of 10 hill farmers and crofters would reduce cow and ewe numbers over the next five years if there was no LFA support.
Mr McCornick said: “We are clear of the view that the LFASS 2019 shortfall can and must be made good to prevent the risk of land abandonment and the loss of all the many rural development benefits that hinge on active farming and crofting in disadvantaged areas.
“I repeat the urgency of the situation. It is imperative that Scottish government acts now and in an entirely positive fashion.
“In doing so, a significant element of the current uncertainty that is undermining already fragile confidence, would be removed.”