There was both good news and bad news yesterday for those aspiring to a future in the farming industry at a major conference aimed at new entrants.
For while it became obvious that there was likely to be considerable delays yet to be endured by newcomers to the industry hoping for support payments and capital grants from the Scottish Government, a major opportunity to receive financial help to become involved in free-range egg production was made to the audience.
The surprise offer came from one of the conferences speakers, widely respected farmer and businessman John Campbell of Glenrath, who had started from scratch but was now one of the world’s largest producers of free-range eggs.
Rather than going with the flow and adding to the criticism of late support payments and poor information on the progress of capital grant applications, Campbell attacked some of the grants which had been awarded under the Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP)’s capital grant schemes in recent years. Criticising the scheme as “one of the worst things that ever happened to Scottish agriculture”, he said the payments had generally been made to those involved in large-scale, capital intensive developments.
He said that by favouring big, established businesses, the grants had stifled the drive of new-comers and smaller concerns who had wanted to develop their businesses.
“And we were the recipient of such a grant totalling £0.8 million – and I wish we had never received it,” said Campbell, who lamented the increasingly senior age profile of those involved in the industry.
However, stating he wanted to put something back into Scottish agriculture, he put his money where his mouth was and made an offer to the audience of young farmers and new entrants.
“To help those wanting to get into the industry I am proposing to make eight loans of £100,000 available to newcomers to set up their own free-range enterprises,” he said.
He added that the interest rate would vary with the base rate, but would currently stand at around 3 per cent. Revealing that two candidates had already been signed up, Campbell said that a sound business plan and evidence of backing from a bank to finance the rest of the project would be required from those who wished to apply for the offer.
• However, for many of those who had applied for official start-up and capital grants aimed at young farmers and new entrants, it was revealed that the UK government’s 2015 spending review had created considerable uncertainty over the funds which the Scottish Government would have to put into this scheme – and the processing of many applications had currently been put on hold.
On the payment of this year’s annual support measures to first-time claimants who had been awarded entitlements from the national reserve, SGRPID Perth’s Alan Hendry indicated that, while every effort was being made to get entitlement allocations and payments out as soon as possible, it was impossible to calculate the level these would be set at until all payments had been fully processed.