Richard Lochhead unveils plan for '˜less favoured' areas

The Scottish Government is to underwrite less favoured area support scheme (LFASS) payments due to farmers and crofters in the country's hill areas.

Richard Lochhead announced support for farmers in disadvantaged areas. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Fears that these payments – which help support livestock farmers in the most disadvantaged areas of the country – would be delayed by the backlog of other support payments had been growing across the country.

However, speaking after a meeting with industry representatives yesterday, cabinet secretary Richard Lochhead recognised the extreme vulnerability of producers in this sector. He said that while the LFASS scheme was normally partly funded by the EU and partly by the Scottish Government, national funds would be used to make sure payments were made in March.

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With individual payments based on last year’s figures, the move will see around 8,000 farmers receive a payment worth 90 per cent of their previous claim, while another 1,400 crofters and small farmers eligible for the £385 minimum LFASS payment will receive that in full.

The level of payment to other eligible claimants will depend on various factors including changes to their land since 2014.

It is expected that a total of £55 million will be paid out under the scheme, and any balance due will be paid after the checks for EU compliance have been completed later in the year.

The Scottish Crofting Federation and the Tenant Farmers Association welcomed the move as a lifeline to easing cash flow problems.

However, NFU Scotland said that a similar approach should have been extended long ago to all areas of support – where an “incompetent” IT system and EU checks had resulted in crippling delays to payments.

“If this can be done for LFASS we want the same approach to be taken with the basic payment scheme,” said union president Allan Bowie.

“Failure to deliver basic payments under the new CAP scheme remains the biggest single reason why, when compared to March 2015, the gaping hole in the Scottish rural economy is a staggering £365m and farmers, crofters, agricultural suppliers and banks are carrying the debt.”