Jean reveals huge delay in farm payments

Basic Payment Scheme helpline - 0300 300 2222Jean Urquhart’s questioning of the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food & Environment, Richard Lochhead MSP, has revealed that the distribution of Single Farm Payments is well behind the schedule promised by the Scottish Government.

Mr Lochhead told Parliament in December that the majority of applicants would receive their first instalment by the end of January. But the Scottish Crofting Federation revealed that only 1% of their members had been paid by the middle of the month, prompting Jean to push for answers.

In the Topical Question section of Parliamentary business this afternoon, she asked the Cabinet Secretary “what percentage of single farm payment applications in the Highlands and Islands and in the rest of Scotland has been paid as of the end of January?”

Mr Lochhead admitted that only 28% of applicants in the Highlands and Islands, and less than 30% of applicants nationally, had received any of the funds due to them.

Quoting evidence from NFU Scotland that although almost 30% of applicants had received their first instalments, only 15% of the total fund has been paid out, Jean asked what proportion of the funds due to farmers in the Highlands and Islands had been paid. Mr Lochhead promised to calculate those figures and forward them to Ms Urquhart “as soon as possible”.

Jean said:

“Many crofters in the Highlands and Islands are having a very difficult time. This huge delay in payments combined with winter feeding, poor weather, and low prices for beasts, is plunging crofters and other farmers into financial emergency. Some have not even had their entitlement letters yet, and some of those that have been issued have been wrong.

“Farmers need peace of mind about their finances, and they need the money they are entitled to at this difficult time. It is essential that the Scottish Government get payments back on the schedule they promised.

“It is bad enough that less than 30% of applicants have received their first instalment, but the picture for crofters looks even worse. The Scottish Crofting Federation estimate that only 1% of their members have received payments. The Minister told us today that simpler cases were being dealt with first, which puts crofters – many of whom have had to lodge appeals due to misclassification of their land – at the back of the queue.

“Today the Minister said that officials will prioritise cases where there is hardship caused by late payments. I urge crofters and any other farmers who are in that position to call the Scottish Government helpline on 0300 300 2222 or visit their local office and ask for their application to be prioritised.”

Rural Payments offices in the Highlands and Islands are located at Inverness, Portree, Stornoway, Kirkwall, Thurso, Lerwick, Tiree, Golspie and Oban. Click here for full contact details.

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“Wellies before slippers” CAP plans welcomed

Pedigree cow "Cavans Bourbon" on Orkney, bred and photographed by Robert Scarth
Pedigree cow “Cavans Bourbon” on Orkney, bred and photographed by Robert Scarth.

Jean has welcomed government proposals on implementing the new Common Agricultural Policy in Scotland.

She praised ministers’ efforts to put “wellies before slippers” by targeting support towards active farmers and away from wealthy owners of unfarmed land, and extend extra assistance to new entrants to farming and to island beef farmers.

The plans were announced to MSPs in a statement by Rural Affairs minister Richard Lochhead on Wednesday.

Jean said:

“Richard Lochhead has shown a real ‘wellies before slippers’ attitude, putting working farmers first and tackling the exploitation of subsidies by wealthy absentee landlords.

“The decision to cap payments at £400,000 puts an end to million-pound payouts to the very wealthiest landowners, making more available for smaller farms with bigger needs.

“The ‘Scottish Clause’, which cuts off direct payments for land with no farming activity on it, means we will no longer subsidise the ‘slipper farmers’ who claim grants for simply owning vacant land. And shooting estates which do not genuinely farm the land will no longer be able to claim funds intended for farmers. These welcome moves support working farmers and create jobs by incentivising bringing unused land back into production.

“I welcome particularly the extra help available to new entrants, the future of farming. They can now look forward to finally getting equal treatment from 2019, and in the meantime will get additional funds from the national reserve, and start-up grants of up to €70,000.

“The centralisation of slaughterhouses and associated transport costs mean that island beef farmers have been squeezed hard. I’m delighted that Mr Lochhead has not only won the fight with Whitehall to keep production-linked support across Scottish beef farming, but added a €65 per calf to-up for the islands.

“We heard only yesterday that Scotland is falling short in our ambitious efforts to tackle climate change, so I’m pleased to see mandatory fertiliser planning for grasslands, which can reduce carbon emissions, improve water quality and increase profitability.

“All in all, these policies are a remarkable achievement given the funding cuts imposed by both the EU and UK, and the balancing act of serving the fantastically diverse but often vulnerable Scottish farming community.”

Read Richard Lochhead’s full statement on the plans here.

Jean welcomes shoot-and-sale license for Uist geese

Jean has welcomed the decision of Scottish Natural Heritage to pilot licenses for crofters and other farmers on the Uists and Benbecula to sell the meat of greylag geese.

The measure will provide much-needed income for local communities, ultimately making goose management self-funding, as well as reducing the needless waste of discarded carcasses.

The licenses will run until March 2015, and build upon a similar pilot in Orkney which began last August and runs until July this year.

Jean said:

“This is great news for the Western Isles. Control of geese is vital to crofting and other farming in the islands, but until now most of the birds have simply had to be thrown away. This has also meant that goose control has cost crofters time or money.

“Under this pilot, we’ll see the end of the shameful waste of high-quality meat, and an income stream that will make goose control self-financing and add to the diversity of croft products.

“This is also a boost for Scotland’s largest community buy-out, as Stòras Uibhist, the community company that owns most of South Uist, Benbecula and Eriskay on behalf of the residents, will be the license-holder for those islands.”

Jean had previously pressed the Scottish Government on the issue, asking Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse in a Parliamentary Question whether he had discussed the impact of the geese on farming, and the possibility of introducing a mechanism for their sale:

Question S4O-02193: Jean Urquhart, Highlands and Islands, Independent, Date Lodged: 22/05/2013
To ask the Scottish Government what recent discussions it has had with Scottish Natural Heritage regarding the impact of greylag geese on agricultural land and the possibility of introducing a mechanism for the sale of greylag geese.

Answered by Paul Wheelhouse (30/05/2013):
My officials have had extensive discussions with Scottish Natural Heritage and with stakeholders represented on the National Goose Management Review Group regarding the impact of greylag geese on agricultural land and possible solutions to limiting their impact on certain Scottish islands, including the trialling of adaptive management techniques.

At the request of farmers on Orkney, Scottish Natural Heritage is working on the development of a scheme to permit the limited sale of wild goose carcases under licence, provided an effective and proportionate system of identification and control can be established.

We are required to consult with the European Commission before putting any such scheme into practice and we intend to start those consultations very shortly.

Parliamentary Question: Areas of Natural Constraint

EU rules allow governments to grant additional financial support to farmers whose land is in areas that are naturally harder to cultivate, currently called Less Favoured Areas. The same function will be carried out by a new system, called Areas of Natural Constraint, under EU plans for reform of the Common Agricultural Policy.

At Rural Affairs and Environment Questions, Jean asked the Minister for clarity on when farmers can expect the change to come, and how the new Areas of Natural Constraint will be chosen.

From the Scottish Parliament Official Report:

Areas of Natural Constraint

5. Jean Urquhart (Highlands and Islands) (Ind):
To ask the Scottish Government what the timescale will be for the introduction of Areas of Natural Constraint to replace Less Favoured Areas. (S4O-02821)

The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment (Richard Lochhead):
The European Union rural development regulation states that the new areas facing natural constraint designation is to be implemented by 2018, and we will review the current Less Favoured Areas scheme in line with the regulation. In the meantime I am committed to continuing vital funding at current levels for the current scheme, to ensure that farming and crofting businesses remain sustainable.

Jean Urquhart:
What guidance has the Scottish Government received from Europe regarding the criteria that are to be used to define Areas of Natural Constraint?

Richard Lochhead:
The debate on this matter has been going on for some time, and a set of criteria has been initially debated. However, because there has been a postponement of the decision to move to a new system, there will, no doubt, be further debate over the next couple of years about the exact criteria that will be used to define areas of natural constraint. During the original debate over the past couple of years, we took some comfort from the fact that Scotland met most of the criteria, although there may have been some debate at the edges about whether some parts of Scotland qualified. Clearly, however, we have an opportunity to debate the issues and iron them out over the next couple of years.

Photos: Planting Potatoes at Hilton Primary School, Inverness

Despite the sudden flurries of snow, I was able to attend Hilton Primary School’s potato-planting session as part of the “Grow Your Own Potatoes” project this morning. It was great to see so many kids so enthusiastic about getting their hands dirty; projects like this and Crofting Connections, which teaches kids about crofting, are fantastic, and long may they continue.IMG_0374 Jean at Hilton PS P5 Hilton PS Potato Planting at Hilton PS

Motion: Importance of Crofting to the Highlands and Islands

NOTE: This motion is eligible for Member’s Business, meaning that, if selected, it shall be debated at some point in the Chamber.

 

The Role of Crofting in the Highlands and Islands
That the Parliament understands that there are 18,027 crofts in the Highlands and Islands and across Scotland, housing over 33,000 people; considers that crofters play a key role through the production of store animals for the agricultural supply chain and in maintaining land in remote areas; believes that crofts are a valuable source of high-health status animals for larger agricultural food producers; considers the work of crofters to be vital to Scotland’s national food and drink policy and to the continuing success of the sector; understands that most crofters rely on common agricultural policy subsidies to earn a marginal income and that they have to take on second jobs; believes that, by bringing in new inhabitants and because of the economic links that crofters have with the rest of the agricultural sector, crofting has helped maintain population levels in remote communities, considers crofting to be of paramount importance to the environment, food and drink sector and economy, and would welcome the interests of crofters and their communities being championed.

Press Release: Jean Urquhart Highlights Particular Difficulties Facing Shetland’s Dairy Industry (July 25th)

Jean Urquhart MSP has highlighted the additional strains faced by dairy farmers in Shetland as a result of the current dispute over milk costs.

The Highlands and Islands MSP spoke with some involved in the industry during her visit to Shetland last week. Commenting on their difficulties, Jean Urquhart said:

“Shetland’s dairy farmers produce a high quality product for which they deserve a fair price. The cut of two pence per litre of milk due to be introduced in August will leave farmers at a loss a situation that is wholly unsustainable.

“Although this issue is hurting farmers across Scotland, those dairy farmers in Shetland are particularly affected as it is not practical for them to export their milk.

“I believe the loss of Shetland’s dairy industry would be absolutely devastating both socially and economically, and would lead to increased transport costs and environmental damage due to the need for more imports.

“A reliance on imported milk could prove problematic in many ways, and at some point may leave the island without supplies if it ever came to depending on it totally.

“It also makes a nonsense of trying to reduce food miles and attempts to combat climate change when the islands already meet their own demand.

“It is essential that the coalition Government act decisively and increase pressure on the major retailers to recognise the critical nature of this current situation.

 “In my role as Highlands and Islands MSP, I will be seeking to support local dairy farmers as best as I can, and will work with my colleagues in the Scottish Government to save an industry that forms an essential part of Shetland’s social and economic fabric.”

“I will also be writing to the relevant retailers to better understand their thinking with regard to the pricing of milk and the importing of milk, not only in Shetland but across the region.”

ENDS