THE Scottish countryside and its diverse industries have been promised grants amounting to £1.6 billion between 2007 and 2013.
The Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP) was one of the flagship post-election policies of the SNP government, but promises and delivery have, to a large extent, not met the initial expectations of farmers.
The SRDP is now subject to an independent review by Peter Cook, formerly a leading economist at the Scottish Agricultural College. He is expected to deliver his report in the early summer.
Late last year The Scotsman commented that proposals put forward by Richard Lochhead, Cabinet secretary for rural affairs, were largely unworkable failed to address the problems of declining livestock production, especially in the hills and uplands.
Jim McLaren, president of NFU Scotland, clearly has his concerns. He said yesterday: "In an ideal world, the SRDP would be delivering, but we feel that some aspects have lost their way. The scheme must be significantly modified, with urgency, to ensure that this important pot of funding plays a far more central role in supporting those who are actively farming the land."
That criterion of being actively engaged in food production is the key issue. In its original format the SRDP decreed that many applications for support were subject to competitive tender. A large number of farmers spent considerable sums on consultancy fees only to be turned down. This was not a happy outcome for McLaren and NFUS. He said: "Too much of the existing SRDP is focused on very specific targets where support is based only on costs and income foregone.
"Too little of the current SRDP is available to support the farming systems that produce these goods and services."
Practical farmers are increasingly struggling to relate to the jargon associated with the SRDP, and even the proposed policies of NFUS. To many, for example, "non-competitive (tier 2) Land Management Options" need a fuller and yet simpler definition and explanation.
It is clear that much of the funding should be directed at the hills and uplands.
The recent "health check" of the Common Agricultural Policy saw the future of the Scottish Beef Calf Scheme, which pays producers a premium on calves, secured for some years.
But it will take more than this token payment, in the view of many hill farmers, to sustain their businesses – and ensure that there is sufficient beef available for consumers in an era when global production is declining. McLaren said: "We believe that moving more of the funds into a non-competitive regime will best serve rural Scotland and provide a much-needed economic boost. That must be a primary objective."
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