The Scottish Government have performed a partial u-turn on funding for the country's remote hill farmers, retaining less favoured area support at 80 percent for both 2019 and 2020.
Earlier this week, the Scottish Government published changes to funding for the Less Favoured Areas Support Scheme (LFASS), stating: “LFASS support will be retained at 80% in 2019 and 40% in 2020”.
But speaking in a debate on future rural policy and support in Scotland, Scottish Government's Rural Economy Secretary, Fergus Ewing, partially reversed this position and instead announced that this funding will remain at 80% of the current level for both 2019 and 2020.
He said: “I am acutely aware of the continuing importance of LFASS for farmers and crofters operating in the most remote and marginalised areas.
“Unlike England and Wales, who discontinued their equivalent schemes some years ago, Scotland continues to provide this additional financial support that acknowledges the difficulties for some farmers, particularly in hill and upland areas, and crofters.
“The continuing uncertainty over Brexit is not helpful. We are having to transition out of LFASS without being able to create a new system to move into.”
The sheep sector have heavily criticised the cuts to hill farming support, with NFU Scotland calling the budget slash “unacceptable”.
LFASS payments are seen as a vital vital financial boost to those farmers who are trying forge a living out of some of the hardest land in the country.
However, compulsory changes to EU regulations mean such payments must drop by 20% this year, but the SNP-led Government has been criticised for going further.
Donald Cameron, Scottish Conservative shadow secretary for the rural economy, welcomed the u-turn, saying Mr Ewing was “well warned” of the “catastrophic” impact cuts will have to Scotland's hill farmers.
“The Chair of the Scottish Crofting Federation, Russell Smith, said just yesterday that ‘Reducing the Less Favoured Areas support to 80% of current rates for 2019 sends out a very negative message, but we can live with it but to then cut it to a mere 40% for 2020 will be ruinous,’” he said.
“Hill farmers will still face a 20% cut over the next few years and that will have serious effects on farmers and crofters in less favoured areas.
“Going forward, the Cabinet Secretary must ensure that those farming on ‘less favourable’ land are properly supported.”
Mr Cameron added: “Once again the SNP government has been dragged to a sensible funding position kicking and screaming.”
Mr Ewing has discussed the possibility of further flexibilities in the proposed regulation when he met the EU's Agricultural Commissioner Phil Hogan, and has lodged proposed amendments.