RULES surrounding the definition of new entrants have been challenged, following the announcement that Young Farmers Start-Up and New Entrants Start-Up Grants will not be re-opened to future applications.

NFU Scotland has written to the Scottish Government on the matter, and both the NFUS Next Generation working group and SAYFC’s Agri-Affairs Committee have expressed deep concern that, under the existing rules defining new entrants, a significant number of genuine new farm businesses are being shut out of the National Reserve as well as the New Entrants Start-up Grant and other capital grant schemes.

The interpretation of ‘new entrant’ eligibility can deem individuals as having been ‘active’ for more than five years because previous years before they were properly established as businesses in their own right are counted.

But it is NFU Scotland’s concern that many future farmers who already have valuable experience are being sidelined, whilst others of less experience are eligible, and can more readily access support.

In the letter to Fergus Ewing, NFUS next generation chairman Mark Donald said: “Scottish Government has often talked of the great importance of new entrants to agriculture in the past. However, the recent news that due to budgetary constraints the Scottish Government would not re-open the Young Farmers Start-Up and New Entrants Start-Up Grants for future applications is hugely disappointing. Surely the levels of demand are indicative of a real enthusiasm from the next generation of Scotland’s farmers and crofters to get a foothold in the industry?

"The demand for this funding was not unanticipated and in our letter to Mr Ewing we have asked for further discussion on the allocation of funds to these grant programmes as being undeniably necessary and have encouraged budget allocation within the Scottish Rural Development Programme to be reconsidered to ensure the continuity of these schemes.”

National Sheep Association chairman, John Fyall, also expressed concern on the issue: "This new entrants grants situation is not a lot better than it was in the past, in my opinion. There is a lot to sort out in terms of taxation, tenure, and general funding.

"One of the main things we have to do is be clear on the definition of 'new entrant', and who should be involved in the system," he said.

"If you break down the opportunities that are on offer, they're often far from ideal. There's a lot of work still to be done on the new entrants scheme, so any suggestion of pulling funding is a step backwards. Things need to be taken far more seriously, and there needs to be a good look had at what is involved."

Mr Fyall continued: "In the past, the new entrants grants have often been manipulated to expand existing businesses, which is obviously not a bad thing in theory, but it certainly misses what I see to be the point, a wee bit. We should definitely be focusing more on encouraging new blood into the industry. In my eyes, we are in no better situation than we were ten years ago. We simply cannot have money that was earmarked for agriculture skimmed off and redirected elsewhere – that would be hugely detrimental.

"The Scottish Government needs to talk to those who have already received new entrants grants or funding, and learn from their experiences, not cut off the potential for others."