FARMER and crofters with beef cows are reminded that applications to the Scottish Suckler Beef Scheme (SSBSS), which provides £40 million to support the production of beef calves, must be in before the December 31 deadline.

NFUS believes the value of this scheme to Scotland’s iconic red meat sector cannot be underestimated as it ensures producers around the country are encouraged to keep producing beef calves to underpin the production of quality Scotch Beef.

After successful lobbying by NFU Scotland, the Scottish Government has confirmed that the scheme will be a feature of future support arrangements in Scotland and that new conditions will be introduced on eligibility from 2025 for the 2026 scheme.

For the current scheme, any farmer or crofter producing beef calves can claim for any calf born between 1 January 2023 and 2 December 2023, provided the calves are at least 75 per cent beef genetics and have been kept on the holding of birth for at least 30 days. Payments are expected in early 2024.

The scheme budget of £40 million is split with £34 million for calves born on the mainland and £6 million for calves born on the islands. The payment rates are determined by the number of eligible calves claimed. Last year, payment rates were £101.42 for mainland calves and £144.47 for island calves.

NFUS president Martin Kennedy said: “This scheme continues to be a vital element of support to maintain the beef suckler herd in Scotland. The iconic Scotch Beef brand continues to be the cornerstone of our red meat sector and contributes 24 percent to the total Scottish agricultural output.

“The importance of the calf scheme cannot be underestimated. We welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to this vital scheme beyond 2025 and we will look to ensure any new conditionality measures for eligibility are proportional and pragmatic. We know that one conditionality measure in the future will be around calving interval, a recommendation from the Suckler Beef Farmer-led Group’s report from several years ago.

“We have also been engaging with the policy reform stakeholder group emphasising a number of key points about the scheme. Firstly, we believe the scheme must retain a minimum £40 million budget; it must retain the island uplift and be delivered in the same cyclical fashion.

We are also strongly in favour of a split payment to ensure there is a just transition to the new scheme rules in 2025. We would support eligible claims having a “base” element for meeting existing eligibility criteria and a top up if the beef calf’s dam meets the new calving interval criteria.

“While this reform is necessary to protect the future of Voluntary Coupled Support (VCS) schemes such as this, we continue to stress the importance of a decision being communicated quickly with the industry so that farmers and crofters have as much time as possible to make the necessary management decisions.

“As announced at the Royal Highland Show, the Scottish Government intends to bring this conditionality into place so that any calf born after 2 December 2024 will fall under new conditionality rules.” Ends