Following the launch of a new system for CAP payments, many farmers have been left struggling to manager their land and finances, working the land while facing an uncertain future.
The IT debacle led to massive financial uncertainty within the agricultural industry, and despite ministers stepping in to provide loans to cover 90% of the money farmers should receive, the problem is still continuing.
Farmers leaders have described the situation as a “tragedy” which has taken a “personal toll” on many in the industry.
Writing on the Scottish Review’s Young Thinker of the Year website, 22-year-old Helen Stewart told of the many issues facing the rural community as a result of the IT disaster.
She said that the failure of the system is adding stress and bad feeling among farmers who do not know if their budgets will last the week.
Ms Stewart, who runs her own gin distillery in her family farm’s grounds, wrote: “This subsidy is now dangerously out of sync for Scottish farmers.
“But without it an estimated 90 per cent of farmers would go out of business within a year as it makes up an average 55 per cent of our income.
“The Scottish Government has driven farmers into the hands of the banks and the depths of debt.
“This isn’t just a problem for now, a temporary ‘glitch’ as the Government attempts to reassure us – it is putting down roots. Already I look around and the farms surrounding me have given up.
“They may not have walked off but they intend to retire and not pass the farm on to their family. There are no alternatives when we are not even told when the situation might be resolved. Every month is a lottery of checking the bank account and phoning around your neighbours as if you’re going mad.” The subsidy fiasco arose at the same time as rising costs and falling milk prices hit many farmers.
The system brought in by the government cost £76 million more than originally planned and has criticsed by Audit Scotland who questioned if it was even fit for purpose due to its multiple failures.
Recent figures show that outstanding loans to Scottish farmers rose to more than £2.3bn by the end of May last year, up by £113m to the highest level since records began.
Speaking to the Herald, NFU Scotland chief executive Scott Walker said many farmers are struggling with financial hardship.
He said: “Many family farms struggle on each year putting in many more hours for much less reward than would be acceptable to most people in Scotland.
“Farming truly is a way of life and is a passion that few want to give up. We all need food and time and time again we are told that people value where there food comes from.
“Farming in Scotland delivers much more than just high quality food. It helps shape and protect the environment.
“It is the start of the successful Scottish food and drink industry that is the biggest manufacturing sector in Scotland. Unless something is done we are in danger of losing all of this.
“The personal toll on people is a tragedy.”
And the issue is having further impact on future farming with young Scots farmers being increasingly priced out of the sector, with dire warnings about the consequences unless radical changes are introduced.
Research from the Royal Bank of Scotland warned of “serious and unnecessary” challenges that are impacting the entire farming industry.
Scottish shadow rural affairs secretary Peter Chapman said: “The SNP starved Scotland’s rural economy of hundreds of millions of pounds as a result of this IT fiasco. It’s no wonder businesses right across the countryside are still feeling the impact. It’s time for the SNP to ditch its Central Belt obsession and help farmers, especially after the neglect it has shown over the past three years.”
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government accepted there had been problems with the system saying: “This is a government absolutely dedicated to supporting the way of life of our rural and farming communities. We have always accepted that the introduction of our new CAP payment system did not go as smoothly we wanted, and made clear our determination to learn lessons from that. “Yet our introduction of loan schemes went a long way to alleviating the financial uncertainty facing farmers.”