Speaking at the opening day of NFU Scotland’s annual meeting and conference, union president Allan Bowie hammered home the message that while the health and wellbeing of farmers were being hit by this failure of the Scottish Government to deliver, the wider knock-on effects were beginning to reverberate through the country’s entire economy.
“The current cash flow crisis – which has a flawed support delivery system at its core – is not just about farmers, but the knock-on effect to auxiliary trades and all those who provide farmers with a service,” he said.
Claiming that, to date, “Scottish agriculture PLC” had received only 12 per cent of the support which was crucial to keep it in business, he continued: “A healthy farming sector is the mainstay of the rural economy and the bedrock of the Scottish food and drink sector – we need whole industry to work together.”
Bowie said that while it was worrying that output in Scottish farming had fallen by 15 per cent in 2015 to £2.94 billion, what was even more worrying was the fact that the bulk of this drop had come not from lower prices but from a fall in overall production.
Stating that this was only the second time in 100 years that incomes had fallen for two consecutive years, he called on the government to step up to the plate to deliver support payments.
“Twenty months on from the cabinet secretary’s initial statement on CAP implementation, the majority of Scottish farmers still remain completely unaware of when they will receive support payments under the new scheme,” he said.
With the 2016 single farm payment scheme due to open shortly, Bowie said that when cabinet secretary Richard Lochhead addressed the meeting today, the industry needed a realistic timetable on when the outstanding £440m of support would be delivered – and a reassurance that other vital areas such as the less favoured area and coupled support schemes would be delivered forthwith.
Questioned from the floor on claims that the complexity of the schemes sought by NFU Scotland had contributed to the difficulties in delivery of the money, Bowie was unrepentant.
“It is the government that decides policy, not us – and it has been the implementation that has been found wanting,” he said.
Union chief executive Scott Walker added that, with a reduced overall budget, the complexity had been required to ensure support was targeted where it was needed.
“Getting the support targeted to active farmers and not diluted by drawing in extra acres has been a major success story for the union,” said Walker.
“The Scottish Government has had 20 months and spent close to £180m to get support to producers – and if it tries to put the blame for late delivery on the union we’re simply not having it!”