HILL FARMERS and crofters are once again being offered a nationally-funded interest-free 'loan' of up to 90% of their Less Favoured Area Support Scheme 2018 entitlement, with payments beginning in April.

Announcing the scheme ahead of the annual NFU Scotland AGM, rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing said the measure would inject up to £57 million into some of Scotland’s remote rural communities: “I am acutely aware of the continuing importance of LFASS for farmers and crofters operating in the most remote and marginalised areas, which is why I am making these loans available.

“We are due to leave the EU at the end of March and the risk of leaving with no deal in place is growing. All the analysis suggests this would be catastrophic for Scotland’s rural economy, and particularly challenging for livestock farmers, many of whom are farming in less favourable areas. I am therefore determined to provide as much financial support and stability as I can so all eligible farmers and crofters will be offered a loan of up to 90% of their 2018 entitlement, with payments beginning in April.

“More widely, I am working tirelessly on finding a solution to continue to deliver funding under LFASS at approximately 100% for this year and the next two scheme years within the context of changes to EU regulations and budgetary constraints.

“My priority remains to protect and grow our rural economy and I encourage all eligible farmers and crofters to strongly consider taking up the loan offer.”

Welcoming the announcement, NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick said: “This support, via the national loan scheme which will be delivered in April, is critical to ensuring that farmers and crofters can continue to deliver for rural Scotland – providing jobs and opportunities. LFASS support is a key injection of cashflow in to our remote communities, driving growth and tackling the causes of rural depopulation.

“Loan offers will be sent out in batches with the first batch being sent out on March 1. It’s important that farmers and crofters opt in if they want timely delivery of the support due via LFASS," stressed Mr McCornick.

“This comes after the cabinet secretary Fergus Ewing attended a meeting of our LFA Committee in January and committed to working towards protecting the £65 million budget of LFASS in future scheme years. This welcome commitment came after tireless and continuous work from our LFA Committee.

“This week, the cabinet secretary will address delegates at the NFUS conference in Glasgow and representatives from communities across Scotland, from Shetland to Stranraer, will want to hear the Scottish Government deliver certainty on it’s ambition to retain this budget for 2019 and 2020 scheme years – with support to be delivered in 2020 and 2021 respectively.

“NFUS remains utterly committed to securing sensible changes to future support, including support to the Less Favoured Areas.”