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Farming: Future of lifeline payments to hill farmers and crofters top of the agenda at Less Favoured Areas Committee

By David Porter

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The future of lifeline support to Scotland’s hills and uplands was top of the agenda when Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Land Reform and Islands Mairi Gougeon MSP met with NFU Scotland’s Less Favoured Areas (LFA) committee on Wednesday.

The meeting took place near Edinburgh as the Union welcomed payments under Scottish Government’s Less Favoured Areas Support Scheme (LFASS) starting to arrive in bank accounts of eligible farmers and crofters but called for a cast iron guarantee from Scottish Government to support the hill farming sector in the future.

LFASS is a scheme that delivers £65 million to support farming and crofting in some of Scotland’s most disadvantaged areas.

Some 70 percent of Scotland’s land area is actively farmed, of which 86 per cent or five million hectares is classified as Less Favoured Area.

LFA farms and crofts drive Scotland’s red meat sector, producing 79 per cent of the nation’s beef and lamb, valued at more than £700 million.

The meeting was held in Edinburgh. Picture: NFU Scotland
The meeting was held in Edinburgh. Picture: NFU Scotland

LFA Committee Chair Peter Kennedy, from Glendaruel in Argyll said: “Livestock farming is the backbone of local economies and communities. Today the Cabinet Secretary joined hill and upland farmers and crofters from around Scotland for a frank and full discussion on the challenges to our sector and what we need from Scottish Government going forward.

“We welcome the prompt payment of funds under the LFASS scheme which started this week.

"These lifeline payments are vital to the well-being of local economies and communities the length and breadth of Scotland.

“Scotland’s LFA delivers high quality food production from land that will also have a fundamental role in meeting Scotland’s ambition to tackle climate change and restore nature.

"We were delighted that she underlined her commitment to continue discussions with us, as a committee, going forward.

“As the Agriculture and Rural Communities (Scotland) Bill continues its journey through the Scottish Parliament, members of the committee were unequivocal in their stance that, under a new agricultural policy for Scotland, support for disadvantaged areas must be retained and delivered as direct support. That clear commitment to future funding from Scottish Government is absolutely critical to maintaining livestock numbers which are central to the prosperity and vibrancy of rural economies and communities across Scotland.

“Active farming and crofting in our hills, uplands and remoter areas is a key pillar to attaining all of Scottish Government’s policy goals that are embedded in the Bill, delivering on food, climate, nature and people.”

NFU Scotland Vice President Andrew Connon, who attended the meeting said: “The Cabinet Secretary heard list of challenges for farmers and crofters in our LFA is lengthy and stretches to historically high input prices, pressures from tree planting to the impact of species like geese and white-tailed eagles. All of which are having an impact on livestock numbers.

"However, it is livestock that are keeping people in these vulnerable rural areas, and we need a fully funded policy for our hills and uplands in the future that maintains our cattle and sheep numbers.”

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