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Union Bids to Boost Scotland's Hill Farming Sector

In a bid to boost the fortunes of all Scotland’s hill farmers, and arrest the ongoing decline in Scottish cattle and sheep numbers, NFU Scotland has delivered a fresh set of proposals to the Scottish Government suggesting improvements to the delivery of the Less Favoured Areas Support Scheme (LFASS).  

The Union believes its model will better recognise the importance of active livestock farmers across all of Scotland’s hills and uplands, secure them an improved payment rate and help maximise the huge economic, social and environmental benefits delivered by the scheme.

In June 2009, Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead announced plans to increase LFASS payment rates in the Fragile and Very Fragile areas of the scheme by 38 percent – 19 percent in 2010 and 19 percent for next year’s scheme.   NFU Scotland has been concerned that while the increase in the payment rates to the Fragile and Very Fragile areas delivers much needed additional support, those active hill units in the Standard area of the scheme, found across much of Scotland, merit similar levels of assistance.

The Union’s proposed modifications would ensure LFASS payments, from 2011, are targeted at those actively farming in LFA areas, wherever they are in Scotland.  The proposals would also help iron out any anomalies in the scheme brought about by the “re-basing” exercise carried out in 2009, when scheme recipients were required to provide up-to-date livestock numbers to ensure payments were going to those truly active. 

The Union believes that its proposed model of delivery – using different minimum stocking densities on different categories of LFA land - will free up money that can now be used to boost LFASS payments to hill farmers in the Standard area by between 15 and 38 percent.   Variable stocking densities will also iron out concerns of hill farmers that the re-basing exercise will not take several categories of stock – ewe hoggs and maiden heifers – into consideration. 

NFU Scotland President, Jim McLaren said:

“LFASS is a fundamentally important scheme to the health and wellbeing of Scotland’s hills and uplands and is key to tackling the Scottish industry’s mounting concerns over declining cattle and sheep numbers.   We have submitted proposals to the Scottish Government on how we think delivery of that funding can be changed to better recognise the contribution made by those producing stock across the whole LFA area.

“We believe an increase in LFASS payments for land in the Standard area, alongside those increases already agreed for the Fragile and Very Fragile areas, would make a massive contribution to the real costs of looking after livestock in these parts.   We have proposed modifications to ensure LFASS payments, from 2011, will deliver just that.

“The re-basing exercise that asked LFASS producers to update their stock numbers has already been completed.   Along with our proposed introduction of variable minimum stocking densities for LFASS 2011, this has the potential to free up funding within the LFASS budget.   We think there are opportunities to use that funding to secure significant increases in the payment rates paid to active producers in the LFASS Standard area and deliver a real shot in the arm to livestock production across a huge chunk of Scotland’s hills and uplands.”   

Notes to Editors

  • Currently, the single minimum stocking density threshold for all farms in LFASS (regardless of grazing category) is 0.12 LU/ha.  NFU Scotland has proposed that this be changed to a range of variable minimum stocking densities, to be introduced to LFASS 2011.   The key reason for this proposal is to make up for the loss of ewe hoggs and under 20 month heifers in the recent re-calculation of stocking densities.  Excluding these livestock categories would mean that the most extensive hill units might have their eligible hectares restricted further and could have seen LFASS payments reduced while being no less active.
  • NFU Scotland has already requested that the Scottish Government model a number of possible variable minimum stocking density options. The Scottish Government has carried out this analysis.  The Union believes that the analysis shows that funds would be freed up within the existing LFASS budget, and has now asked that the Scottish Government consider the following scheme changes.

- Secure the LFASS budget to 2013.  Re-basing is intended to update LFA activity and the introduction of variable minimum stocking densities must not be used as a vehicle to reduce LFASS expenditure.
- Retain the existing payment rate increases, as announced in June 2009, for the Fragile and Very Fragile areas to LFASS 2013.
- Introduce variable minimum stocking rates as per the NFU Scotland model under LFASS 2011 - to recover the loss of ewe hoggs and under 20 month heifers in the calculation of stocking density following the re-basing exercise.
- Increase payment rates by 38 percent for A and B land in the Standard area for LFASS 2011-2013.  This would be on a par with the increases already secured for all LFA land in the Fragile and Very Fragile areas, and would absorb approximately £2.5 million of the freed up funds within the LFASS budget.
- Increase payment rates by 15 percent for C and D land in the Standard area for LFASS 2011-2013.  This would absorb approximately £3 million of the freed up funds within the LFASS budget.

  • In recent discussions with the Scottish Government, the issue of dairy farming within the LFA has arisen.   Outside the milk quota ring-fenced areas of Argyll and the Islands and Orkney and Shetland, dairying is not deemed an eligible activity and LFA dairy farms do not receive LFASS.  NFU Scotland has previously argued that if new money became available, then dairy farming should be included within the LFASS scheme.   We await a decision from Scottish Government on whether it intends to include dairy farming as an eligible activity in the future.

Ends

Contact Bob Carruth on 0131 472 4006

Date Published:

News Article No.: 81/10


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