OVER 1000 applications have already been made to the trial run of an agri-tech grant scheme that might come to be regarded as the vanguard of a whole new style of agricultural support.

The usefulness of this first version of the Scottish Government's Sustainable Agriculture Capital Grant Scheme is still being hotly debated, but if uptake is any measure of success, this scheme clearly has potential.

With a pilot budget of £10 million, the SACGS if offering farmers and crofters capital grant funding of up to £20,000 to purchase specific items of agricultural equipment to help them improve their understanding and control of their businesses' environmental impacts.

As The Scottish Farmer went to press, the clock was ticking towards the application deadline at midnight this Sunday, October 11, and NFU Scotland did not hesitate to advise interested members who had not yet made an application to 'crack on'.

Union policy manager Jenny Brunton said: “This is a pilot scheme and NFUS has always been clear that, in the future, we would want to see the level of funding and the list of eligible items expanded so that a greater number of farmers and crofters across all sectors can access equipment that will drive our efforts to support sustainable farming, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect the natural environment.

“With the scheme closing at midnight on October 11, indications are that the uptake level is good and we would encourage those considering the scheme to crack on with their applications.”

Ms Brunton stressed that the application process was 'relatively simple' and that applicants could utilise already completed carbon audits, animal health plans and nutrient management plans to gain additional 'green points' for the scheme's scoring system.

But this positivity was in contrast to a statement by land agents Galbraith, which described the scheme as a 'washout', claiming farmers had shunned it due to its 'excessive bureaucracy'.

Stewart Johnston, head of farm consultancy for Galbraith in Aberdeenshire, said: “Most of our clients have found the level of paperwork that needs to be in place before applying for this funding too onerous. They had to have already completed a carbon audit, to have detailed nutrient plans and veterinary plans already written up and to submit all this before applying for the grant.

“However, we expect that most future funding schemes from the Scottish government will be in a similar vein and I would encourage everyone to undertake a carbon audit now, and to look at their nutrient plans, to make it easier to apply for future grants,” added Mr Johnston.

Asked to comment on Galbraith's stance, a Scottish Government spokesperson indicated that uptake was over 1000 applications so far, and added: “We welcome Galbraith's acknowledgement that these are vital first steps to receiving more funding for specific investments and would echo their call to undertake carbon audits or consider nutrient plans.

But the spokesman corrected Galbraith: “Applying for the SACGS is a simple process and applicants are not necessarily required to have a carbon audit, nutrient plan or veterinary plan, although having such documentation may enable applicants to gain additional points if those plans relate to the item they are applying for.

"We will carry out monitoring to assess the effectiveness of the pilot scheme, asking farmers and crofters for their views," he added. "The feedback and the results from the monitoring will allow us to shape future policy and support mechanisms.”