The Scottish Government has agreed to roll out Less Favoured Area Support Scheme (LFASS) payments by the end of March, following a meeting with stakeholders.
Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead confirmed the Scottish Government will provide cash support within weeks to almost 11,500 farming businesses in Scotland’s most remote and rural areas whilst basic payments are being processed.
Mr Lochhead also stated the Scottish Government was doing everything in its power to make as many farm payments as quickly as possible within the EU payment window which runs until June 30.
As of Wednesday, almost 10,000 first instalments worth about 80 per cent of basic and greening payments had been made – which equates to almost 55 per cent of eligible claims.
NFU Scotland President Allan Bowie said: “For months now the industry has been crying out for clear, decisive leadership from Scottish Government on the payment debacle caused by the flawed IT system and to do what is necessary to make payments.
"The Union’s call to deliver LFASS payments by the end of March has today been met by the Government who are going to bypass the flawed IT system and roll out payments to vulnerable hill farmers and crofters based on the claim they made in 2014."
The decision meets one of NFUS’ key demands.
Mr Bowie added: "We asked Scottish Government to crank up the old system, make part payments to previous LFASS recipients, get money into the rural economy and pay a balance once it has sorted out the unholy computer mess that it has created.
“This move shows what can be done and must be a stepping stone to Scottish Government taking further significant action to deliver a part payment of the basic payment scheme to all farmers in order to address the huge financial problems that the Scottish Government’s £178 million flawed IT delivery system has created."
Mr Bowie stated that if this move can be made for the LFASS, then the same approach should be taken to tackle the continuing battle with the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS).
“Failure to deliver basic payments under the new CAP scheme remains the biggest single reason why, when compared to March 2015, the gaping hole in the Scottish rural economy is a staggering £365 million and farmers, crofters, agricultural suppliers and banks are carrying the debt.
“Since payments started late in December 2015, the incompetent IT system put in place has meant that only 25 per cent of the pot available under the basic payment scheme and greening is currently in circulation and other vital schemes have been delayed because to the IT choices made.
“On beef and ewe hogg payments, worth £38 million and £6 million respectively to our livestock farmers, we understand the computer systems to deliver these haven’t even be built yet.
"That is unbelievable incompetence on the part of those charged with delivering these schemes and Scottish Government must immediately direct resources to address this.
Mr Lochhead admitted the payments had taken much longer than expected
He said: “This is the first year of a radically reformed and exceptionally complex Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) which has had a knock-on effect on payment schedules here in Scotland and elsewhere in Europe. Whilst I have always been clear that decisions taken with the industry on the complexity of the new policy would prove extremely challenging to implement, it is taking far longer to make payments than we had hoped.