Hill Farming’s Future Needs Positive Policies

NFU Scotland has told a Scottish Parliament committee that the future of hill farming and crofting in Scotland is at a crossroads and that positive policy decisions are needed now if livestock production is to remain the backbone of local economies and communities across Scotland.

The Union was giving oral evidence today (Wednesday, 12 May) to a Rural Affairs and Environment Committee inquiry.  The purpose of the inquiry is to consider the issues arising from the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s 2008 report Scotland’s Hills and Islands.

The Union used the opportunity to highlight the importance of extensive livestock farming in the hills and uplands and pointed out that policy developments, particularly around existing support schemes, are key.   These will have a major influence in the future, particularly if the rapid decline in the number of livestock being kept in some parts is to be reversed.

Speaking in the Scottish Parliament, NFU Scotland’s head of Rural Policy, Jonnie Hall said:

Hill farming and crofting in Scotland is at a crossroads with livestock producers questioning their future.  This poses a quandary for policy-makers and the industry itself.  Do we simply accept this decline in agricultural activity as an inescapable consequence of poor market returns?  Or do we recognise the massive social, environmental and economic benefits delivered by the industry and seek innovative solutions to secure its future?  We believe that the potential harm to the rural economy and countryside of a continued downturn in hill farming demands action to secure its future. 

“The ongoing decline in livestock numbers has significant ramifications for local economies, communities, the environment and the red meat supply chain.  The harsh reality is that making a viable living from hill livestock production is likely to remain a huge challenge and the majority of farms can not survive without the support payments they receive, primarily through the Single Farm Payment (SFP) and the Less Favoured Area Support Scheme (LFASS).  The spiralling costs for feed, fuel, fertiliser and labour are more than offsetting any recent improvements in market prices for cattle and sheep and the financial vulnerability of hill farms and crofts is unlikely to change in near future.

“The Union believes that it is both vital and urgent that more deliberate steps are taken to halt the decline in cattle and sheep production and prevent the loss of many facets of rural Scotland by using the policy tools that are currently available to Scotland.   The SFP scheme that delivers the bulk of support to farmers in Scotland is scheduled for reform from 2013 onwards. To preserve all the benefits delivered by livestock production in the hills and uplands, it is vital that any new scheme is focussed on productivity and that those actively engaged in farming are the major beneficiaries of the public support available.

“Another absolute priority for NFU Scotland going forward is to ensure that support delivered through the LFASS is similarly targeted at active units in general and the most vulnerable hill units in particular, regardless of their location in Scotland.

“NFUS has openly welcomed the recent increases in LFA rates for those in fragile and very fragile areas.   However, the Union has prioritised work to ensure that the LFASS in 2011 clearly reflects activity on all LFA hill farms and crofts, including those in the Standard area, and rewards those who are delivering the benefits derived from keeping cattle and sheep in these disadvantaged areas.  Our proposals to achieve this are currently with the Scottish Government for consideration.”

Notes to Editors

  • A copy of NFU Scotland’s written evidence to the Rural Affairs and Environment Committee inquiry into Scotland’s Hills and Islands is available on request.


Contact Bob Carruth on 0131 472 4006



Date Published:

News Article No.: 75/10

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