SCOTLAND’S MOST marginal areas are to receive an extra £10m of convergence funding, following an announcement by cabinet secretary Fergus Ewing, who will now deliver a total of £90m in convergence cash to Scottish agriculture by March 2020.

The total cashpot of £160m coming to Scotland will remain unchanged, with the £10m top-up being taken from the second tranche of £80m sworn to the industry by 2021.

Ahead of the latest £10m announcement, Mr Ewing’s initial breakdown for funding for this financial year proposed that £52m was to be distributed on an area basis, with £26.2m going to region 1, £18.4m to region 2 and £7.9m to region 3. A further £13m is to be used to make up the deficit in LFASS funding and £15m is to go towards Voluntary Coupled Support – distributed between The Scottish Suckler Beef Support Scheme (£13m) and the Scottish Upland Sheep Support Scheme (£2m).

A spokesperson for Mr Ewing commented on two new measures to be taken by the Scottish Government which came off the back of a meeting with the Scottish Crofting Federation: “The rural economy secretary is to redistribute a further £10 million in 2019-20 to those farming and crofting in Scotland’s most challenging land, and to start work on a replacement for LFASS, to be developed with the involvement of appropriate stakeholders."

Both measures have been welcomed cautiously by chair of the SCF Yvonne White, who stressed that the 'devil will be in the detail' of how that money will be allocated: “We were pleased Mr Ewing took the time to meet with us and we feel that he now realises that his initial distribution announcement, despite good intentions, didn’t go far enough to support Scottish crofters and farmers.

“However, we didn’t get everything we wanted for our members, as we would like to see a higher allocation of funding to region 2 and 3 and capping of some payments.”

Executive director of the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association Angus McCall insisted that proposed funding must exclude the non-active: “We would like to see convergence monies in Region 2 and 3 land being restricted to farmers and crofters in receipt of LFASS, thus ensuring non-active farmers or land managers do not benefit from the windfall payments.

“This would include land, currently in receipt of single farm payments, which has been or is in the process of being converted to forestry or about to be planted with trees, land with no stock and slipper farmers.”

NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick questioned the thinking behind Fergus Ewing's new funding announcement: "This is reaction politics rather than what the industry needs. The Cabinet Secretary is compounding a wrong decision last week with another wrong decision this week. The Cabinet Secretary needs to recognise that region 1 land is the heart and lungs of Scottish agriculture. It is the region 1 in-bye land that makes our hills and uplands work. The value of this land is not being recognised in how the money is being allocated.”

Rural affairs spokesman for the Scottish Tories, Peter Chapman, echoed NFUS' sentiment: “This is an industry which is completely integrated and trying to split one area from another does not work. It appears that the cabinet secretary doesn’t understand that Orkney, Tiree and Bute to name but three areas are predominantly region 1 land," he stressed. "Of 1.6 million hectares of region 1 land, two-thirds is growing grass and supporting livestock. Has he learnt nothing about the crisis in our beef industry?”

Chairman of the Scottish Beef Association Neil McCorkindale concurred: “What was the point in all those so-called beef crisis meetings when the opportunity to make a real difference to the beef industry is now being ignored? If the Government and the NFU think around £30 a calf is going to make farmers think twice about getting rid of cows they could not be more wrong. Finishers are losing around £200 a head and understandably are now passing that implication on to producers.

“Now it remains to be seen if the Scottish Government is serious about saving the Scottish beef industry when it announces how the next tranche of money will be used."