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Scottish Government unveils changes for north-east and Moray farming support payments

By David Porter

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Further details about the actions farmers and crofters in the north-east and Moray will have to take to receive agricultural support payments from 2025 have been unveiled. The new criteria for support will help farmers and crofters meet more of our food needs sustainably, and farm and croft while working to protect nature.

It is the latest update to the Agricultural Reform route map – a guide to help farmers and crofters prepare for the gradual transition to the new agricultural support framework which will start in 2027.

As part of the move to the new framework, changes from 2025 include-

A new calving interval of 410 days measured on an individual animal basis added to the Scottish Suckler Beef Support Scheme, to help cut emissions intensity and make beef production more efficient

The introduction of the first Whole Farm Plan conditions which require farmers and crofters to complete two baselining activities from a list of options including carbon audits, biodiversity audits, soil analysis, the creation of animal health and welfare plans or integrated pest management plans

New conditions for peatlands and wetlands under Good Agricultural Environmental Conditions (GAEC) 6 of Cross Compliance to help protect vital carbon stores

Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon said: “As we have said for some time, support for farming in Scotland is changing. From 2025, farmers and crofters will have to deliver new things in return for basic payments. These changes will allow us to continue to produce high quality food and to do so in a way that helps us to tackle climate change and enhance nature.

“As we continue the transition to a new agricultural support framework, we want to make sure that farmers and crofters know exactly what they need to do to prepare for this change. Through our Agricultural Reform route map, supported with extensive engagement with the sector, we are making sure the sector is kept informed of key updates to future support.

“It is clear that many farmers and crofters have already begun this journey successfully. I would urge all farmers and crofters to look at the available information, to ensure they are ready for the changes to come.”

This year Scottish farmers and crofters will start to receive valuable payments as part of the Scottish Suckler Beef Support Scheme (SSBSS) on Thursday March 28..

The SSBSS, worth £40 million, helps underpin Scotland’s iconic beef sector, supports farmers and crofters breeding beef calves from suckler cows, ensuring that herds remain at a level that sustains Scotland’s commercial beef industry. From that pot, £34 million is for eligible mainland calves and £6 million for Island calf claims.

NFU Scotland’s Vice President Andrew Connon.
NFU Scotland’s Vice President Andrew Connon.

NFU Scotland has welcomed the commitment from Scottish Government that, with new conditionality around calving intervals, the SSBSS will remain part of future support arrangements for Scottish beef farmers. The Union has called on the Scottish Government to share details on new scheme rules with the industry at the earliest opportunity.

For the 2023 scheme year, there was a worrying decrease in the total number of mainland and island businesses making a claim, down from 6499 to 6423, and a four per cent decrease in the total number of beef calves claimed, which was down from 379,740 to 366,371. With fewer animals claimed, that means a small increase in the payments per head, with mainland beef calves receiving £105.24 and Island calves receiving £151.24 per head.

NFU Scotland’s 2023 Intentions survey, carried out early in the year, had predicted a four per cent reduction in the Scottish suckler herd and anticipated that total calf claims made in the 2023 scheme year would be down.

NFU Scotland’s Vice President Andrew Connon said: “NFU Scotland welcomes the timely and prompt payments of the SSBSS this year. It is concerning to see a four per cent fall in animals claimed, which signifies that our iconic beef sector still faces ongoing uncertainty and vulnerability despite the very robust prices for store and prime cattle being seen just now.

“It is in the interests of our food and drink sector and our rural economy that farmers and crofters see a future in beef. It is clear that coupled support schemes such as SSBSS, which reward active farming and support our suckler beef herd, remain an anchor for farmers and crofters in these turbulent times.

“That is why we have welcomed the Scottish Government’s confirmation that SSBSS, a targeted support scheme, is to remain a key element of Scotland’s future agricultural support package from 2025 onwards. We look forward to Scottish Government bringing forward details on the new conditionality rules that will be attached to the scheme at the earliest opportunity as spring calving is already in full swing across Scotland.

“More than 50 per cent (39) of the decline in total number of businesses claiming (76) relates to the islands but the fall in calves claimed from the islands is 1,815 from a total of 13,369 – or about 13.6 per cent.

“That indicates that it is smaller suckler herds on the islands that are leaving the sector at the fastest rate, which underlines the need for effective, targeted coupled support and ongoing Less Favoured Areas support to underpin the socio-economic significance of suckler herds in more remote and fragile locations.

“It underlines NFU Scotland’s calls for frontloading payments to support smaller producers and the need to ensure the future SSBSS remains accessible and relevant to all beef producers, big and small.”

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