A SCHEME offering hardship payments to dairy farmers has so far been dismissed as an 'overcomplicated' non-starter for Scotland.

England’s dairy farmers will be eligible to access up to £10,000 in government support if they can prove a loss of over 25% income as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown.

However, the details of the scheme have been criticised for their complexity, with the Scottish Government and NFU Scotland’s milk committee meeting in private this week to debate whether such a scheme would be appropriate here.

The way the scheme is currently determined, only a handful of Scottish producers may qualify for payment, The SF was told. If such a scheme were to be rolled out in Scotland, a distinction would need to be clear that only those farmers directly impacted by Covid-19 could apply, ruling out those producers who have been struggling as result of falling milk prices over the past two months.

“We are desperately keen to help dairy farmers, but the way this scheme is put together needs a serious amount of clarification,” commented NFUS milk committee chair, Gary Mitchell. “Details on how the scheme will operate and how producers would apply are still unclear. Once these emerge, we can examine them in detail and identify if something similar would be relevant for Scotland to ensure the worst affected are helped.”

Rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing was asked in an online committee meeting last week by Rachael Hamilton MSP whether he would ‘stand alongside dairy farmers through this period and introduce a similar hardship scheme here in Scotland?’

Mr Ewing responded: “We are working extremely closely with NFUS and the sector to ensure we are able to take whatever steps are necessary to assist.”

Commenting on the detail of the English scheme, Mr Ewing said: “This assistance is of a limited nature but nonetheless could be of real assistance. There are those who supply the restaurant and online market rather than directly to the supermarket, some of whom have suffered considerable financial loss.”

Coinciding with the hardship fund announcement was the launch of a £1million advertising campaign to boost sales of dairy products in the UK by encouraging the public to drink more milk.

The 12-week-campaign, which is a joint initiative by AHDB, Dairy UK members and the UK Governments, will appear on social media, digital and television, highlighting the central and sometimes forgotten role that dairy plays as part of people's everyday lives, and stressing he importance of taking a moment to connect with others, and share tea or coffee moments with friends and colleagues, even if only virtually.

AHDB's chief marketing officer, Christine Watts, said: "We know that consumers love milk and the great taste of dairy, but because it’s such an integral part of our lives, consumers tend to take it for granted.”

Gary Mitchell concluded: “As consumer purchasing patterns have dramatically changed, this campaign should increase the awareness and use of dairy products by the general public. It will be the perfect launch pad into World Milk Day on June 1.”