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09/10/13 10:48

Support for farmers

Latest figures highlight toll taken by poor winter.

Almost £3.5 million Scottish Government compensation has now been paid to farmers hit by losses caused by this year’s severe weather.

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead has confirmed that a total of 540 Weather Aid payments, worth more than £2.7 million, have now been processed. More than 4,000 farmers have already received help from the Scottish Government’s £750,000 Fallen Stock Fund.

It comes as official figures show this year’s wintry conditions led to a fall in livestock numbers across Scotland, with the number of calves and lambs particularly badly affected.

Commenting on the June 2013 Agricultural Census, Mr Lochhead said:

“These latest statistics confirm what we already know - that this year’s extreme weather has taken its toll on Scottish farmers.

“That is why the Scottish Government is providing £6.5 million compensation through our Weather Aid scheme and Fallen Stock Fund which, unlike in England and Wales, is extra funding in addition to Single Farm Payments.

“I am pleased that thousands of farmers have now benefited from this additional Scottish Government support.

“About 300 Weather Aid claims are still outstanding and my officials are actively working with these farmers to verify their applications so that payments comply with EU state aid rules. This is very complex, which is why some claims are taking longer to process, but all payments will be completed as soon as possible.

“Although the extreme weather was undoubtedly a massive factor in the drop in sheep and cattle numbers this year, there is evidence of a longer-term decline. This highlights the scale of the challenge facing Scotland’s red meat industry - particularly for Scotch Beef which has relatively high production costs.

“The Scottish Government is already taking action to support the beef sector, for example through the current Scottish Beef Scheme and looking at how best to provide support for beef production in the new CAP.

“However, there is a limit to what the Scottish Government alone can achieve. If the challenges facing the sector are to be addressed, then the industry must work collectively with retailers to incentivise increased production, for example through supermarkets stocking more Scottish red meat and paying a fair price to farmers. The whole supply chain should benefit from the fact that Scotch beef has never been in such demand at home and abroad.”

The June 2013 Agricultural Census also shows the area of rented agricultural land in Scotland has fallen by a fifth in a decade while the number of agricultural holdings with non-croft tenancies has decreased by 370 in the past year alone. Mr Lochhead added:

“Less than a quarter of Scotland’s agricultural land is now rented, while the number of agricultural tenancies has fallen by about 10 per cent in just five years. This continuing decline demonstrates the importance of the forthcoming review of Agricultural Holdings legislation that I will lead.

“Many tenant farmers have made the case that current tenure arrangements stifle on-farm investment. Given the current land reform debate in rural Scotland we need to consider what is in the best interest of rural communities and the role individual land ownership plays in this. Landlords’ views must also be heard.

“It is also important that we give all tenant farmers and stakeholders the opportunity to enter into full and frank dialogue about absolute right to buy.”

Notes to editors

The full statistical publications can be accessed at: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2013/10/5891

The Scottish Government has made available a total of £6.5 million compensation to farmers affected by this year’s extreme weather, comprising £750,000 for the Fallen Stock Fund and £5.75 million for the main Weather Aid scheme.

So far, 4,082 farmers have received a share of £730,623.52 from the Fallen Stock Fund and Weather Aid payments totalling £2,703,301.13 have been made to 540 farmers.

Top five Weather Aid regions

Total claims paid

Amount paid (to nearest £1)

Dumfries & Galloway

136

£697,341

Scottish Borders

85

£417,204

Tayside and Fife

77

£383,976

Ayrshire

55

£293,284

NE Scotland

53

£243,372

Lanarkshire

41

£225,499

Payments made under the Weather Aid Scheme must comply with block exemption and EU state aid de minimis rules. This is very complex, and in line with the wishes of the Weather Aid Expert Group that farmers should not be subject to additional inspections, Scottish Government officials have been carefully verifying the evidence provided by farmers to support their claims. In some cases, information cannot be easily verified and these claims are taking longer to process. All payments will be completed as soon as possible.

Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead has confirmed to the Scottish Parliament that the review of Agricultural Holdings legislation will be a Ministerial-led, rather than external, and consideration of absolute right to buy will be restricted to secure 1991 Act agricultural tenancies which can be passed down through families for generations. An announcement on the remit of the review, the appointment of review group members and the timetable involved will be made in due course.