Scottish farmers to be offered cash support
Thousands of farmers are to be offered cash support within weeks while the Scottish government gets to grips with complex new European funding rules.
Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead pledged support to almost 11,500 remote and rural farms while basic payments are being processed.
He made the commitment in a meeting with industry representatives.
He said the Scottish Government was working to make as many payments as possible by 30 June.
Almost 10,000 instalments worth about 80% of basic and greening payments have been made, which equates to almost 55% of eligible claims.
Mr Lochhead said: "I recognise that farmers and crofters in Scotland's very remote and rural areas are particularly vulnerable to the tough market conditions and extreme weather that have been exacerbating cash flow issues in the industry. For them, LFASS (Less Favoured Area Support Scheme) can be a lifeline.
"LFASS payments have always started in March and, to avoid delays, the Scottish Government is taking action using national funds to ensure the vast majority of claimants will receive payments in March as usual.
"Our nationally-funded scheme for LFASS claimants will see almost 11,500 farm businesses in Scotland's most remote and fragile areas automatically get a payment, injecting almost £55m more into Scotland's rural economy over the coming weeks.
"This is the first year of a radically-reformed and exceptionally complex Common Agricultural Policy (Cap) which has had a knock-on effect on payment schedules here in Scotland and elsewhere in Europe."
He added: "Whilst I have always been clear that decisions taken with the industry on the complexity of the new policy would prove extremely challenging to implement, it is taking far longer to make payments than we had hoped.
"The majority of Scottish farmers and crofters have now received a direct payment worth about 80% of their basic and greening claim and the Scottish Government is applying every measure to ensure the IT system is able to make speedier payments.
"For farmers and crofters still waiting for their basic and greening payment who may be facing financial hardship, the Scottish Government has earmarked £20m to provide a safety net for the sector at this difficult time."
Scottish Crofting Federation chief executive Patrick Krause said: "It is great to see the Scottish Government is being so creative in finding ways to ease crofters' cash flow concerns during this difficult time."
Scottish Tenant Farmers Association chairman Christopher Nicholson said: "This will provide vital liquidity to Scottish agriculture at a time when farm cash flows are under pressure."
But Scottish Liberal Democrat rural affairs spokesman Tavish Scott said: "The Scottish government's decision to bypass their worthless computer system to deliver LFASS payments will help some parts of our rural economy. But this is an admission of failure - ministers have spent £178m on a system that simply does not work.
"And farmers and crofters who will be due beef and ewe hogg payments will be shocked that there has been absolutely no movement whatsoever to create a system through which they will receive those vital funds. The rural affairs secretary hasn't learnt anything from his handling of this mess and it's time for the first minister to step in."