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Missing sales talk as support scheme plans are delayed

By Ali Morrison

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From the Croft column by Scottish Crofting Federation director Russell Smith, Bonar Bridge

We put the tups out last week full of hope as always, but without knowing what the market for lambs will be next year.

Crofters and farmers are all worried so, Prime Minister Johnson, (I know you read the Northern Times every week), can we have an EU deal that avoids tariffs on our red meat exports and maintains standards at home and on imports?

And if you can’t negotiate a decent deal in the limited time that is left to secure one, can we have an extension to the transition period, please?

Russell Smith.
Russell Smith.

It should be obvious that crofters can’t plan ahead if we don’t know what is coming.

The Scottish Government has been talking about sheep support schemes should prices collapse next year, but they are also unable to plan ahead as they do not know what is coming either.

We took the last of our lambs to the Dingwall market this month.

Anecdotally, prices seem to be back a bit in the last couple of weeks.

But the sales have all gone ahead despite Covid-19 in any case, so well done to the auctioneers.

However, just dropping off your animals for sale and then going home takes much of the fun out of the occasion.

There is no chance to talk up your lambs in the ring; no chance to cast a critical eye over others’ lambs; no coffee and bacon roll; no conversation with people you only see once a year at the mart; no cheque in your hand; and no chance of getting home in time to see them going through the ring on the internet.

The Scottish Crofting Federation had a telephone meeting with the cabinet secretary Fergus Ewing about the future of LFASS last week.

We have been promised a fairer system supporting the most constrained land for years.

The last attempt for an overhaul was abandoned in 2016.

Now it looks like LFASS will continue to 2024, in some form, in the name of “stability”.

This suits those who get support but who aren’t actually too disadvantaged comparatively, but hurts those in the north, west and islands who are really disadvantaged.

A system which classifies more than 80 per cent of Scotland as “less favoured” must be spreading the money too thinly.

However, we have been promised that preparing for a new system will be picked up again in the spring.

Indications are that climate change mitigation measures will figure prominently in the thinking about all replacement support systems.

Watch this space – but don’t hold your breath!

At least we have had a drier and milder spell of weather, which has helped hugely with ground conditions and getting outside jobs done.

Last month was the fifth wettest October in the UK since 1862.

October 3 was the wettest day on record over the whole of the UK.

It was also the fifth gloomiest October since 1919.

I know that is all true because it was also my busiest month ever for towing motorhomes off the grass on the caravan site.

The continuing surge in holidaymakers to the north has certainly been a welcome benefit in an otherwise Covid-19 blighted year.

Stay safe.

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