By a Newsnet Reporter
The Scottish Government has begun injecting over £300million into the rural economy, giving a vital cash boost to the beleaguered farming industry in the process.
European Union rules permit the distribution of EU Common Agricultural Policy subsidy payments, for any given year, in a window between 1st December and 30th June of the following year.
The constant wet weather faced by Scottish farmers over the past 12 months has left many rural businesses financially challenged. Because of this, the National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS) had actively sought assurances from the Scottish Government that the support monies would be paid to Scottish farmers as soon as possible and they have therefore warmly welcomed today’s ‘Single Farm Payments’ (SFP).
NFU Scotland President, Nigel Miller said: “Farming systems and financial resources have been pushed to near breaking point by the extreme weather endured on many farms this year. In our recent wet weather survey, many respondents highlighted worries over cash flow and expenditure, and prompt delivery of the SFP is very welcome but also badly needed.”
Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead commented: “Scottish farmers have had a challenging time this summer, coping with this year’s record rainfall and sometimes difficult harvest. That is why; this year more than ever, this Government has done all it can to ensure farmers receive their Single Farm Payment as promptly as possible. I’d like to thank the many staff who have worked hard to ensure so many payments can be made today.
“In the current economic climate these support payments are vital for Scottish farmers, making the difference between profit and loss for many farm businesses. So this year’s payments should be seen as clear evidence that this government is supporting Scotland’s farmers in tough economic times.
According to the Scottish Government, the initial payments will see around 14,200 producers receive their SFP – an increase of around 4 per cent on 2011. It is hoped that the remaining claimants will receive their payments in the near future.
The earlier payments have been issued to producers who have successfully passed the Scottish Government’s eligibility checks. Because of European Commission conditions attached to payments, farmers and crofters who have outstanding inspections or other eligibility issues cannot be paid until these have been resolved.
Nigel Miller continued, “This payment run will bolster 14,200 farm businesses into the New Year but we would want to see all eligible claimants receive a similar boost before the year is out.”
Controversy over the issue of EU farm support payments has been heightened this year as talks have rumbled on in Brussels over the shape that the next EU Common Agricultural Policy, from 2014 onwards, will take. Scotland’s farmers are not represented in the principal EU talks by the Scottish Government as in EU terms Scotland is merely a region of a Member State, the UK.
UK Government policy is to call for farm subsidies to be phased out and therefore representation by UK Ministers has been causing concern amongst many of Scotland’s farmers. In contrast, the Scottish Government and the devolved administrations in Wales and Northern Ireland are keen to highlight the fact that a significant proportion of farming in their countries takes place in areas that the EU classes as ‘less favoured’ where continued support is required.
In Scotland 85% of the farmed land area is classed as less favoured and is relatively unproductive for anything but sheep grazing. The Scottish Government has taken the view that in order to keep farming in Scotland’s hills and glens, and thus maintain a resident population and the landscape for tourists, it is important that farmers receive support.
The UK Governments anti-subsidy stance means that Scottish farmers receive the least amount of subsidy per hectare of any country in Europe.
Separate from the Single Farm Payments, measures to boost the environmental worth of Scottish farmland are also set to benefit from a financial boost, when the latest round of ‘Rural Priorities’ funding, worth more than £19 million kicks in.
Organic producers will benefit from £1.47 million of support alongside projects to enhance biodiversity on protected designated sites, support black grouse and improve water quality.
This brings the total of Rural Priorities funding approved to around £568 million since it was launched through the Scotland Rural Development Programme (SRDP) scheme in 2008.
Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “This latest round of more than £19 million of Rural Priorities funding will provide much-needed support to environmental and forestry projects across rural Scotland. This essential funding will support a wide range of activity from planting new woodland to investing in organically managed farmland across Scotland.
“These projects will not only benefit the rural communities which are being supported but will also make a substantial contribution to meeting climate change and favourable condition targets, protecting and enhancing some of our most valuable areas designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
“Over the past five years, we have approved around £568 million of Rural Priorities support benefiting thousands of projects across rural Scotland. This vital funding under the Scotland Rural Development Programme will continue to deliver wider environmental benefits across the country for many years to come.”
Projects approved in for ‘agri-environment’ and forestry scheme funding include:
• A collaboration of projects in Tayside will work with the Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels project to coordinate control of grey squirrels by landowners across the region. Around £300,000 will be distributed over the next five years. This will fund a total of 18 cases to create barriers for grey squirrels to help halt the decline of the native red squirrel, one of our most iconic species.
• David Kirkpatrick of Auchenbainzie, Thornhill has been awarded £40,228 over five years, to manage water margins, habitat mosaics and wetland. This funding will also create two hectares of new woodland over fifteen years. These projects will restore, conserve and enhance species and habitats that are important to Dumfries and Galloway, providing nesting areas and habitats for a wide array of plants, insects and birds.
• Jeff Stoddart of Halls Farm, Penicuik has been awarded £100,518 over five years, to deliver a conservation grazing programme on a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The restructuring of livestock management on the farm will benefit grassland and fen habitats in the SSSI. This will improve the quality of the land for a diverse array of species through targeted planting and sensitive grazing.
• Alexander Cook of Mosshead, Inverurie has been awarded £93,420 over five years to convert his entire 84 hectares farm to organic production. This will enable the business to farm all of the land at Mosshead organically, delivering associated biodiversity, pollution control, energy efficiency and soil protection benefits. This proposal also contributes to the national target of increasing the area of organically managed farmland in Scotland.
The approved schemes aim to meet the key Rural Development Programme objectives of improving water quality, mitigation of climate changes and the protection and enhancement of Scotland’s bio-diversity and landscape. This will make a significant contribution towards helping Scotland meet its international commitment, set out under the Natura Directives, UN and EU policy, to reach climate change and favourable condition targets on designated protected sites (SSSIs).
There will also be a considerable range of biodiversity benefits which include; helping to maintain traditional grazing management on fragile land, active management of semi-natural habitats and providing feeding and nesting sites for a range of farmland breeding birds.
This is the 13th round of funding under Rural Priorities and focuses on Axis Two (agri-environment and forestry) projects.
Rural Priorities is a competitive funding mechanism under the Scotland Rural Development Programme (SRDP). It delivers targeted environmental, social and economic benefits to 11 designated regions of Scotland. The priorities for each region are agreed with local stakeholders and contracts are awarded for the proposals which are best able to deliver those priorities.
The Scottish Government and European Union funding covers part of the cost of individual projects, with the remainder coming from the applicants – a healthy sign that rural businesses and community groups are investing in their future.