Fergus Ewing upbeat despite missing AgriScot debate

Rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing insisted that loan support had arrived 'in good time' for farmers. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing insisted that loan support had arrived 'in good time' for farmers. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

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There might have been some regret at yesterday’s AgriScot event that the top gladiatorial event of the day – NFU Scotland’s annual debate with the rural economy cabinet secretary – did not take place due to a mix-up over invitations and prior engagements.

However, arriving at lunchtime – hotfoot from addressing a cruise liner conference – Fergus Ewing argued that actions spoke louder than words.

The whole thing is an utter disaster, especially for the sheep industry

Rob Livesey

“When I met the industry over the summer they emphasised upon me the importance of getting support money out to the industry early in the year,” he said.

“The delivery earlier this month of around £240 million into the rural economy in the form of national farm support loans has delivered on this request to support the rural sector – and it has arrived in good time to make sure the industry can take full benefit from the new developments and innovations on display at events such as AgriScot.”

READ MORE: NFUS urges all to take up Government’s loan offer

Stating that early substantial payments would help make amends for the late delivery of 2015 payments, he also called on the estimated 30 per cent who had not applied for the loan to do so now.

Ewing said: “To be clear, there are no interest payments to be made on this loan. The only time an interest charge would be due would be where an overpayment was made and there was a substantial delay in returning the funds.”

But, despite the absence of the cabinet secretary, NFUS president Allan Bowie told the meeting the union had played an important role in prompting the early loan payments.

“We need to build on the momentum we have in making our politicians understand what our industry delivers and make sure, as we enter Brexit negotiations, that all sectors of society appreciate what we provide,” he continued.

He said that the Brexit deal was crucially important as it would set the scene for generations to come, adding: “We need to hold a gun to the head of the UK government to get a nuance that they realise both British and Scottish food matters – and we need to know that they are listening and understand that message.”

Vice-president Andrew McCornick said that while getting the right trade deals and market access were imperative, it was also crucial that the UK government at least maintained Scotland’s farm budget.

However, while both Bowie and McCornick managed to find some positives in the Brexit situation, fellow vice-president Rob Livesey was more candid: “The whole thing is an utter disaster, especially for the sheep industry – and I’ve yet to find any sort of positive to the situation.”

AgriScot winners announced

While no firm figures were available for the attendance at yesterday’s AgriScot, the organisers said that this year’s head count was likely to be close to last year’s 11,000.

Event chairman Andrew Moir said that the 242 stall holders at the event had been happy with the interest being expressed by possible buyers. Commenting on the fact that most producers were in receipt of their support payment loans, he said: “Having ‘money in the tin’ certainly hasn’t done any harm – and stall holders have had a considerable number of contacts to follow up.”

The event also saw a number of prestigious awards handed out to top farmers.

READ MORE: Countdown to unveiling of country’s top beef farm

Bankhouse Farm, near the village of Stow in the Scottish Borders, run by Graham and Kathleen Lofthouse, lifted the accolade of AgriScot Scottish Sheep Farm of the Year at the event.

The judges said that while the farm might be relatively small in comparison to other livestock farms in the area, the Lofthouses knew how to get the most out of their business, running 439 ewes plus ewe lambs, and 72 suckler cows on less than 300 upland acres.

Graham Lofthouse said that while he had never expected to win, he felt that the competition had been a great way of promoting the sheep industry.

“Farmers have a great story to tell – and sometimes we don’t do enough to get the message out there to the public,” he said.

The dairy farm of the year award went to K & I Millar and Sons, Trailflat, Dumfries, run by Keith and Irene Millar and sons Donald and David.

And a Dumfries & Galloway farm, Drumdow, near Stranraer, run by Robert Parker and his wife Eileen, was announced as the overall winner of the beef farmer of the year award.

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