HILL FARMERS and crofters operating in some of Scotland's most remote and marginalised areas will soon benefit from a share of payments worth more than £24 million.

Around 11,000 eligible farmers and crofters will receive payment in the coming weeks, although many will have already opted to receive up to 90% of their 2018 entitlement under the national loan scheme announced by the Scottish Government earlier this year.

This week's first tranche of the main LFA payment will go out to 5532 farmers and crofters in total, with further payment runs being made in the days and weeks ahead.

Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said: “I firmly believe we must help those who need help the most, and can confirm that payments will begin to arrive in bank accounts in the coming days.

“We are working hard to provide as much certainty to support farmers and crofters as we can. This money will provide a welcome cash injection to businesses and the wider rural economy. With the deadline for applying for a loan approaching, I would encourage anyone who has yet to accept a loan offer to do so by April 12.

“With further payments being made in the coming weeks, I am confident that the majority of awards will be made by the end of June in line with our payment schedule," he said. "However, with Brexit continuing to present the biggest threat to the industry, the Scottish Government continues to work with others to further extend Article 50 to avoid a catastrophic ‘no deal’ outcome and allow time for a second referendum on EU membership.”

NFU Scotland Less Favoured Areas committee chairman Robert MacDonald, a hill farmer from Grantown-on-Spey, said: “It’s good to see the Scottish Government progressing with balance payments for the Less Favoured Areas Support Scheme. LFASS offers vital support to businesses in remote and island communities in Scotland and the latest tranche of payments will give Scottish farmers and crofters an important boost to cash flows at a demanding time of year – underpinning many local jobs and businesses in the process.

“With the LFASS loan scheme still open, I’d urge every LFASS eligible farm and croft yet to apply for the loan scheme to do so by this Friday’s deadline," added Mr MacDonald.

“The need to support farms and crofts in more remote and disadvantaged areas is already clear and the challenges facing those agricultural businesses, and all they underpin, are only increasing. Volatile weather, uncertain market returns and the threat of a no-deal Brexit are all significant business factors for farms and crofts in the LFA and it’s necessary that we ensure continued support. We must see budgets maintained in the coming years and NFUS will work closely with the Scottish Government to achieve this.

“We welcome the recognition of these challenges from the Scottish Government, which are compounded by high farm input prices, low returns, and a tough winter," he said. "However, Scottish farmers and crofters will continue to meet these challenges in order to put high quality food on dinner plates across the country.”