The Scottish Government’s budget setting is a case of ‘hollow promises of jam tomorrow’ according to NFU Scotland president Martin Kennedy.

In a stinging analysis of the agriculture budget this week, Mr. Kennedy said Scotland’s farmers and crofters have been let down as he pointed to the failure to return £61m of agri funds to the portfolio.

He argued the cuts have a ‘disproportionate and potentially devastating impact on the industry’s confidence levels and scope for investment’.

Mr Kennedy acknowledged that support for Basic Payment Scheme, Greening, and Less Favoured Areas support, amounting to almost £490 million, has been preserved, but pointed out that £10m has gone from other Pillar 1 (direct) support and the Agricultural Transformation Fund, Agri-Environment Climate Scheme, Business Development and Agricultural Reform Programme have all been shaved.

He urged the Scottish Government to ‘do the right thing’ and return the withdrawn funds in its finalised budget.

However, Deputy First Minister Shona Robison said Scotland’s farmers and crofters receive ‘the most generous package of support’ anywhere in the UK.

In her budget address to Holyrood, Ms. Robison said the Scottish Government recognises ‘the vital role that agriculture plays in the rural economy, and we recognise the opportunity to become more productive and sustainable’.

The veteran MSP also confirmed the same level of support would be provided through direct payments to farmers and crofters that were available before Brexit.

However, Ms Robison’s speech could not mask a raft of cuts to the agriculture budget which the Tories describe as a ‘hammer blow to rural Scotland.’

In cash terms, the rural affairs and islands budget was cut by more than £78 million, which now falls to £1,092.6 million, while the agriculture budget was slashed by more than £33.2 million, down to £705.7 million.

The island's budget has also fallen by £1.8 million, land reform cash has shrunk by £3.5 million, while forestry funding has been felled by £33.6 million.

Commenting on the money taken previously from the agriculture budget, the finance secretary said: “I wrote to the National Farmers Union Scotland president to reiterate my commitment that the funds that had been released to support the cost of living crisis would be returned in full, to be spent on the right agricultural priorities at the appropriate time.

“Agricultural Scotland has taken the hit for a Brexit that we did not vote for, but this budget demonstrates that the Scottish Government is resolute in our support for farmers and crofters right across Scotland.”

Tory rural affairs spokesperson Rachael Hamilton slammed the cuts as unsustainable and accused Mairi Gougon of being ‘missing in action’.

She said: “The SNP-Green government will be the first to demand climate change targets of Scotland’s farmers and crofters, but the last to support them with a realistic budget.

“Ministers have decided to rob rural Scotland – even after already taking over £60 million from their budget before these latest cuts. The central-belt obsessed government is completely out of touch with the needs of those living and working in rural Scotland.

“These sorts of cuts – worth almost £100 million in real terms – are simply unsustainable and only put jobs at risk and harm our rural economy.

“It is clear that the SNP’s rural affairs secretary Mairi Gougeon has been missing in action and stood idly by while Shona Robison imposed these brutal cuts.

“Rural Scotland is facing the devastating consequences at the hand of a SNP-Green government who are all too happy to boost their constitution budget, while at the same time oversee huge reductions in the rural budget.”

Scottish Land & Estates described the budget as ‘anodyne as could be hoped for by rural Scotland.’

Policy director Stephen Young welcomed measures to accelerate the planning system but called for clarity on funding.

He said: “Whilst the Scottish Government claims it will maintain direct support for farmers and crofters at pre-Brexit levels, we need to examine exactly what is meant by this. It is extremely concerning that while we seek to mitigate climate and biodiversity crisis, we are seeing a reduction in funding for agri-environment schemes.

“The budget for agriculture has already seen reductions, including the much-discussed missing £33million that should have gone to Scottish farmers.

“As we transition to a new support framework, we must have clarity over how food production and land management will be backed moving forward.”