TARGETED SUPPORT for agriculture in Scotland's Less Favoured Areas must have its full £65 million budget reinstated next spring – or politicians risk undermining the foundations of an industry worth more than £1 billion to the economy.

After months on the backburner, the fate of the Less Favoured Areas Support Scheme was pushed back into the spotlight this week by NFU Scotland, in a policy document laying out just how much value the country as whole gleans from that £65m investment.

Accounting for 86% of Scotland’s agricultural land, 90% of its sheep and 83% of its beef herd, LFA agriculture was described as 'the backbone' of Scotland’s sustainable red meat industry, critical in the delivery of the rural economy, local jobs, world-famous landscapes and biodiversity, carbon sequestration and storage, thriving communities and cultural heritage.

But with EU transition rules winding down the LFASS, and huge question marks hanging over the future funding and shape of post Brexit farm support, NFUS thought it high time that policymakers be reminded what they stand to lose if they don't make a long term plan for upland agriculture.

President Andrew McCornick said “This document, driven by our LFA committee, drills down into the detail on what is required from Scottish Government if we are to continue to secure the huge number of benefits derived from LFA farming and crofting.

“It must act with urgency and use its new powers in the new Scottish Agriculture Bill to unpick the continuation of EU regulations that would see the demise of LFASS. The importance of LFASS payments through what will be a turbulent period for LFA farmers and crofters cannot be overstated," said Mr McCornick.

“The key ask for these businesses is the full reinstatement of LFASS support until at least 2024, moving away from the disruption and uncertainty we have seen around LFA support in recent times. Next year presents a clear opportunity for Scottish Government to fully deliver on its commitment to LFA over the next few years.

“We have also outlined necessary changes to the beef calf scheme and the ewe hogg scheme. Together with LFASS, these will ensure farming and crofting remain the economic catalyst behind many of Scotland’s remote and island communities and will continue to generate a vast array of non-market benefits that are clearly in the public interest.”

Robert MacDonald of the LFA committee warned that failure to build the LFASS back to its 2018 levels would risk 'shooting the goose that lays the golden egg' for Scotland's Highlands and Islands, but voiced optimism that politicians, once they appreciated the 'bang for their buck' that £65m generated, would support a reinstated scheme.

Union policy guru Jonnie Hall explained that historically, the LFA budget was paid around 70% from the EU, and 30% from Scottish Government funds. Outwith the EU, that Brussels portion would now have to come from Westminster – and pointed to the Conservative manifesto pledge to maintain farm funding at the same level as paid out under the CAP.