McLaren calls for speedy payment of cash aid for hard-pressed hill farmers

A PLEA to the Scottish Government for early payment of £65 million of less favoured area support scheme (LFASS) payments to Scotland's hard-pressed hill and upland farmers was made last night by NFU Scotland president Jim McLaren.

The money was urgently required, he said, to help farmers meet escalating feed, straw and fuel costs triggered by the severe winter weather.

"The weather continues to play havoc on Scotland's farms with many farms struggling to secure deliveries of essential supplies while doing their best to keep shelves stocked by getting their produce out the farm road and into the food chain," said McLaren.

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"The majority of Scotland's hill and upland farmers are already eating into their cash flow to buy emergency supplies of feed and fuel, and straw prices have gone through the roof. Some farmers also face having to find shelter for stock.

"For many vulnerable hill and upland farms, the knowledge that LFASS payments are on their way will provide a vital cushion when faced with hefty bills so early in the winter."

He congratulated the government on again paying out most of the single farm payment, worth 450m to Scottish farmers, in December. European Union rules allow LFASS payments to be made any time after January 1. "With no let up in the weather, we are calling on the government to do a similar job when it comes to making LFASS payments in early 2011," he said.

The union is concerned that minor changes to the scheme could delay payment. Officials have appealed to the government to avoid asking farmers to gather outwintered stock for cross-compliance checks during the current adverse weather but have warned farmers to make sure their paperwork is up to date for any inspection of records.

LFASS payments will be even more important in 2011 because of the difficulty of securing funding for investment under the rural priorities scheme where support has been capped.

"Rural priorities has been successful in allocating funds but last year's scheme left many applicants extremely unhappy and our expectation is that this situation will only worsen in 2011," McLaren warned.

He called on the government to clarify the true priorities of the scheme to prevent farmers spending large amounts of money preparing applications, only to face rejection because of lack of funds.

"It is simply wrong that a farmer has to pay on average 2,000 to put together an application with only a glimmer of hope as to whether or not it will be successful," he said.

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"Clearer guidance and clarity will be helpful to all - not just farmers but also the government in terms of managing expectations ahead."