Welcome given to help for Scotland’s farmers

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  By Jenna Sutherland

The Scottish Government has taken steps to ensure farmers have the support they need after the intense weather of the past year.  Farmers throughout Scotland can look forward to a cash boost as vital Single Farm Payments begin to arrive in bank accounts as of this week.

Around 14,200 Scottish producers will receive their Single Farm Payments – an increase of around 4% on 2011 – injecting approximately £303 million into the rural economy. This is the first day payments are permitted by European regulations.

The help comes as farmers struggle to cope with extreme weather conditions.  In northern and western Scotland records show it was one of the wettest winters for the past 100 years. Summer 2012 was also the coolest summer since 1998. Eastern Scotland had one of its wettest summers, severely affecting Scotland’s agriculture.

In October this year the first estimate of the cereal and oilseed rape harvest found that overall production and average yields are expected to decrease. Cereal production is expected to decrease by 12% due to the wet weather conditions.

Single Farm Payment (SFP) replaced the arable and livestock support schemes back in January 2005.  Payments are available to farmers who have passed eligibility checks.  The UK government was one of the first EU countries to introduce the SFP. The SFP will boost the rural economy by £303 million pounds, with approximately 14,200 farmers receiving their payments on the third of December . Some farmers could possibly have to wait until June next year, because of a fixed payment window set by European Commission regulations.

The SNP are calling on the banks to show maximum leniency toward farmers who have not received their payments yet. Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead stated he would be writing to banks to update them on the timing of Single Farm Payments and asking them to provide maximum flexibility for those farmers whose payments are notmade at the start of December. Government staff have been working tirelessly evening and weekends, in order for the SFP to be paid as quickly as possible.

Help has also been made available for farms in any Nitrate Vulnerable Zones. These zones have specific mandatory rules, which if not properly complied with can lead to a fine. Mr Dey has stated a large percentage of the farmers who have asked for help have avoided penalties or fines.

Mr Lochhead has said he believes these support schemes are “vital for Scottish farmers, making the difference between profit and loss for many farm businesses.

He added:  “This year’s payments should be seen as clear evidence that this government is supporting Scotland’s farmers in tough economic times. Our priority now will be to work with producers to resolve any problems and pay remaining claims as quickly as possible. I would urge all concerned to ensure that they respond promptly to any requests that will help us to settle their claims.”

Graeme Dey, SNP MSP for Angus South and deputy convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs, Climate Change and Environment Committee, said:

“We have had some extreme weather this year which has caused difficulties for Scotland’s farmers. So these measures from the SNP Government are very welcome. We must do all we reasonably can to help support our farmers. Not only have we prioritized Single Farm Payments, the banks have also been urged to show leniency to those farmers who have yet to receive their payments.”

The MSPs have been full of praise for the farmers themselves. Mr Lochhead said: “With a well-deserved reputation for resilience, Scotland’s farmers are continuing to make the most of the opportunities ahead.However, there is no escaping the fact that this has been a difficult year which is why we are doing all we can to support farmers.”

While Mr Dey said he believes “farming is fundamental to Scottish life. Agriculture plays an integral role in the wider community and sustains jobs in primary production and throughout related sectors.”