SCOTTISH farmers, hit by this year’s severe winter weather, have received almost £3.5 million in compensation payments from the Scottish Government, it was revealed today.
A total of 540 weather aid payments, worth more than £2.7 million, have already been processed for farmers who made losses due to the snow storms. And more than 4,000 farmers have also received help from the Scottish Government’s £750,000 Fallen Stock Fund.
Another 300 claims for financial aid are still being processed.
The payments total was announced by Richard Lochhead, the Scottish Rural Affairs Secretary, as the new agricultural census report published by the Government confirmed that the wintry conditions had led to a fall in livestock numbers across Scotland, with the number of calves and lambs particularly badly affected.
Mr Lochhead said: “These latest statistics confirm what we already know - that this year’s extreme weather has taken its toll on Scottish farmers. That is why the Scottish Government is providing £6.5 million compensation through our Weather Aid scheme and Fallen Stock Fund which, unlike in England and Wales, is extra funding in addition to Single Farm Payments.”
He continued: “I am pleased that thousands of farmers have now benefited from this additional Scottish Government support. About 300 Weather Aid claims are still outstanding and my officials are actively working with these farmers to verify their applications so that payments comply with EU state aid rules. This is very complex, which is why some claims are taking longer to process, but all payments will be completed as soon as possible.”
Mr Lochhead stressed: “Although the extreme weather was undoubtedly a massive factor in the drop in sheep and cattle numbers this year, there is evidence of a longer-term decline. This highlights the scale of the challenge facing Scotland’s red meat industry - particularly for Scotch Beef which has relatively high production costs.”
According to the census, pig numbers in Scotland have fallen by almost 35 per cent over the past decade, sheep numbers by almost 18 per cent and cattle numbers by ten per cent.
The census report states: “Historically cattle numbers peaked in 1974 and have been declining since, and are now back to levels seen in the 1950s. Sheep numbers saw peaks in the 1930s, 1960s and 1990s, but are now at their lowest since 1947, with only two other years lower since 1883. Pig number saw a very large increase in the 1950s, but about two-thirds of this increase has now been lost.”
Mr Lochhead said: “The Scottish Government is already taking action to support the beef sector, for example through the current Scottish Beef Scheme and looking at how best to provide support for beef production in the new Common Agricultural Policy.
“However, there is a limit to what the Scottish Government alone can achieve. If the challenges facing the sector are to be addressed, then the industry must work collectively with retailers to incentivise increased production, for example through supermarkets stocking more Scottish red meat and paying a fair price to farmers. The whole supply chain should benefit from the fact that Scotch beef has never been in such demand at home and abroad.”
Rented agricultural land
The census also shows the area of rented agricultural land in Scotland has fallen by a fifth in the last ten years while the number of agricultural holdings with non-croft tenancies has decreased by 370 in the past year alone
Mr Lochhead said: “Less than a quarter of Scotland’s agricultural land is now rented, while the number of agricultural tenancies has fallen by about 10 per cent in just five years. This continuing decline demonstrates the importance of the forthcoming review of Agricultural Holdings legislation that I will lead.
“Many tenant farmers have made the case that current tenure arrangements stifle on-farm investment. Given the current land reform debate in rural Scotland we need to consider what is in the best interest of rural communities and the role individual land ownership plays in this. Landlords’ views must also be heard.
“It is also important that we give all tenant farmers and stakeholders the opportunity to enter into full and frank dialogue about absolute right to buy.”
Tavish Scott, the Scottish Liberal Democrat’s rural affairs spokesman, said: “The worrying decline in livestock numbers continue. 500 herds have left Scottish agriculture and one million sheep have gone in a decade.
“This is the heartbeat of the Scottish industry and the mainstay of exports. The Scottish Government must recognise livestock farmers and Crofters in their decisions over agricultural support. Otherwise the positive record of Food and Drink export figures will be undermined.”
NFU Scotland spokesman Bob Carruth said: “Given the exceptional and extreme weather endured by Scottish farmers in the winter of 2012 and the spring of 2013, the figures revealed in the June census will come as little surprise to those close to the agricultural sector. Those weather events significantly changed the shape of the Scottish arable sector and ensured that our cattle and sheep numbers remained under pressure.
“But what a difference a year makes. The 2013 harvest, with potatoes still to be completed, will probably go down as one of the easiest to conduct on record. Ideal weather conditions across much of Scotland for harvesting and sowing crops means that 2014 is already, on paper, shaping up to be a more normal year for our arable sector. Record prices for cattle and solid trade for sheep also hint at improved fortunes for those sectors. That will be needed if we are to stem the decline that we have seen in our cattle herds and sheep flocks in recent years.”