£2m plans for new entrants and deer farmers

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Details emerged yesterday on how the £2 million promised in February by rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead would be distributed to new entrants and deer farmers, both of whom are currently excluded from single farm payment support (SFP).

All new entrants who have established businesses since 2004 and who have been actively farming a minimum of three hectares will be eligible for the support to cover this year and next, prior to the new common agricultural policy (CAP) coming into being in January 2015.

Deer farmers, who have been excluded from farm subsidies up until now, will also be eligible for a share of the money provided they keep a minimum of 20 deer.

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said the final decision on how the money would be paid out would be made by the New Entrants group and the Scottish Government but it was likely to be based on the area farmed.

She added that, since the announcement was first made, some 150 expressions of interest had been gathered by the Scottish Government and further applications were welcomed prior to the closing date on 9 June.

Those successful in their bids for support would be notified by the end of July. The New Entrants group reckons that there are around 500 farmers currently excluded from SFP. If that figure is correct and all were to apply for a share, the average payment would be £4,000 per business.

Jim Simmons, a Banffshire hill farmer and chairman of the New Entrants group, described the news as extremely welcome.

He runs 700 ewes and 30 suckler cows on an 800 acre hill farm rented from the Crown Estate near Tomintoul. “I started this business in 2006 and bought some SFP entitlements but in reality my SFP should be three times the size it is. By 2015-16 I will be £200,000 down.”

Simmond’s fear is that the CAP transition will take far too long, with other industry lobby groups arguing for a phased in change lasting until 2020.

In his case that would mean it would be 14 years from the start of his business until he reached the much quoted level playing field. “That is ridiculous,” he said.

In making the announcement, Lochhead said: “It is crucial that we do all we can to help introduce new entrants to farming. They are fresh blood to what is the backbone of the rural economy.

“As I have said before, this is a helping hand but is no substitute for direct support that new entrants should get but don’t due to the flawed European policy currently in place.”

Lochhead also clarified that new entrants would qualify for a share of the £6 million weather aid package announced by the government in the wake of the extreme cold weather in March.

Commenting on the new entrants support, a spokesman for NFUS said he was not surprised by the level of interest already lodged.

He said it was vitally important that the money was distributed as soon as possible bearing in mind the adverse conditions and current pressures on cash flows.

Dick Playfair, secretary of the Scottish Venison Partnership, said he was pleased that the funding had been confirmed.

“This announcement is good news for those deer farmers who were in from the start without SFP. Once spread across the sector it won’t add up to a huge amount per business but everything helps, particularly as the deer farming sector is eager to develop with market demand for venison currently so strong.”