LOBBYING against the introduction of an 'Areas of Natural Constraint' scheme was an NFU Scotland policy designed to appease its core membership at the expense of crofters, it was claimed this week.

Unleashing this broadside, Scottish Crofting Federation chief executive Patrick Krause also accused the union’s vice-president Martin Kennedy of using his latest online blog to misleadingly “spin” the facts of the issue.

Mr Krause told The Scottish Farmer: “We were exasperated, but not surprised, by the ministerial announcement that the ANC support scheme is not going to be introduced as planned.

"After all, it was likely to redistribute payments, as Mr Kennedy admitted in his blog, putting more support to the fragile areas it is intended for and so benefitting crofters rather than the core membership of NFUS.

“Salt was rubbed into the wound by Mr Kennedy claiming that this is good news for crofters too and that the NFUS are responsible for having encouraged this decision. Is his assurance that it is 'the least worst' option heartening?" asked Mr Krause.

“He goes on to make the biased claim that ANC would have pulled in 90-95% of Scotland so watering down payments. In fact, many of the scenarios put forward in the ANC stakeholder groups actually point towards the eligible area being reduced, so cutting out producers who really should not be classed as naturally constrained.

“I would guess that this is much more likely to be the underlying reason for wanting ANC ditched," said the SCF chief. "As for his claim that ANC encouraged inactivity, why would it? We have plenty of measures to prevent the ‘slipper farming’ that NFUS invented with historic payments a decade ago.

“It would be fine if NFUS just came clean,” Krause concluded, “and didn’t pretend to be doing this for the good of crofters."

In the disputed blog, Mr Kennedy stated: "Active farmers and crofters throughout Scotland would be the hardest hit under any of the dozens of Areas of Natural Constraint scenarios that have been looked at over the past two years or so.

"Scotland has done a pretty good job of managing to target activity through LFASS, recognising different constraints in different areas, hence the payment differences between standard, fragile and very fragile areas along with recognition of activity and type."

Referring to the recently announced plan to wind-up the existing LFASS scheme with a reduced payment next year, the vice-president said: "It may seem that the parachute system is a cop out to some, but the reality is that with all the work that has been done over the past two years and more – and believe me it's been a lot of work and commitment by many – the ANC system as it stands would give a flattening out of payments across the whole country.

"This would have the immediate effect of not supporting the active farmer or crofter, whether they be small and intensive or those large and extensive active units. All the ANC scenarios we looked at favoured inactivity which is something we simply cannot defend.

"It bothers me greatly when we get criticised for trying to find the right path for the greatest majority," he added. "Many who criticise don't understand either the work that goes in or the consequences of a wrong decision."