Challenge of calf scheme conditionality vs protecting the budget

Coming to terms with calf scheme conditionality is a challenge but it is a hard-won £40 million funding pot we must protect writes Livestock Committee Chair Hugh Fraser.

We are six weeks on from Scottish Government’s announcement that to be eligible for the Scottish Suckler Beef Support Scheme (SSBSS) next year, the dam will have to have a calving interval threshold of 410 days or less. This followed on from the initial announcement 11 months ago at the Royal Highland Show in June 2023.

The primary question tends to be why is there any need to fiddle with this Scottish-specific scheme which has broadly worked well over the last nineteen years? 

In short, to increase efficiency. This can be looked at in various ways. Whether it is to improve productivity and profitability by increasing the ratio of calves to cows.  For example, in 2021, ten per cent of Scottish beef cows had a calving interval over 480 days. 

The introduction of the conditionality will also reduce the emissions intensity. It is estimated that 12.5 kilotons of CO2 equivalence could be saved by reducing the calving interval average by 5 days.  

To put things into perspective, based on a seven-year average, 83.3 per cent of Scottish suckler cows will achieve the 410-day interval. 

Usually, the next question tends to be, what’s NFUS doing about this? 

First and foremost, it is worth bearing in mind that the future of the scheme and is budget were not guaranteed.

We have lobbied hard for this scheme to continue to feature in Scotland’s future support framework, and we have been successful in securing a commitment from Scottish Government to retain SSBSS until 2028, with the existing £40 million budget, including the distinct island uplift. 

The way payments are calculated will remain unchanged, so while there might be a reduction in the number of eligible calves as a result of the new conditionality, individual payments per head will increase. 

We do recognise there are a lot of anomalies caused by the scheme changes, and this scheme is not necessarily the tool to sort these. 

This includes ensuring there is a balance in support for extensive based systems which equally need to be supported to ensure they are enabled to continue to deliver the well-known multitude of environmental and socio-economic benefits.

While many are calling for the delay of the introduction of the new conditionality, it has been made clear to the wider industry that there is no wiggle room for delay. 

Scottish Government has committed to transition at least 50 per cent of support to become conditional by next year.  The only way to secure this type of support remaining available to us is to introduce the conditionality elements. Delays would risk losing the £40 million budget to other areas of the Agricultural portfolio or elsewhere in central Government.

We need to be alive to the budgetary constraints of governments, and the calf scheme can’t compete in wider scheme of budgets. 

And driving for sensible changes to SSBSS scheme rules sits alongside our commitment to shaping and influencing plans for future disadvantaged support to replace LFASS, as well as ensuring accessible and effective measures in Tiers 2, 3 and 4 of the future support framework. 

So, what’s next? 

Communication of scheme change by Scottish Government must improve and once we receive the detail we have been asking for, and have been promised later this year, we will share that with members.

We know that this year’s calf registration date will act as the start for the next calf’s calving interval and in turn, their eligibility for future calves. It is important that we remind members of the statutory requirement to record all calf births within 27 days.  

We also know that a heifer’s first calf will be exempt and issued a full payment, as is the case today. Furthermore, Scottish Government will use ScotEID data to calculate the calving interval. There is also a note that there will be no administrative penalty for any calves which do not meet the calving interval. Meaning you do not need to calculate the interval prior to submitting the claim.  

However, I would encourage members to look at their own calving interval on MyHerdStats, accessed via ScotMoves+. 

We continue to engage in dialogue with ScotGov to ensure that the force majeure system for unprecedent situations is accessible and practical. This has been a key ask of ours since the inception of this reform. 

Furthermore, we are keen to be part of the development of full scheme guidance, stressing that this needs to be delivered as soon as possible. 

We have continuously stressed to officials and ministers alike that this reform needs to be communicated effectively.  Lessons must be learned by Scottish Government from the roll out of this particular reform and any changes or reform to other schemes cannot be made retrospectively to what is happening on the ground. 

Date Published:

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