NFU Scotland is calling on the Scottish Government to bring forward details on its proposed reform of the Scottish Suckler Beef Support Scheme (SSBSS), which supports beef suckler herds.

Members had hoped to hear further details at last week’s NFUS’s AGM, but no additional information was provided. However, in his address to the conference, First Minister Humza Yousaf stated his ambition to see agricultural production in Scotland grow and that the SSBSS is an essential element for beef.

The proposals announced at the Royal Highland Show in June 2023 stated that the Scottish Government intends to bring scheme conditionality into place so that any calf born after December 2, 2024, will fall under new calving interval conditionality rules. With the annual spring bull sales underway and many beef producers about to introduce bulls into their herds, it means calves conceived from this spring onwards will need to meet new eligibility criteria to qualify for payment under new proposals.

The Scottish Government has confirmed that the scheme will be a feature of future support arrangements in Scotland and that the scheme budget will be retained with the inclusion of an island uplift.

The scheme budget of £40m is split with £34m for calves born on the mainland and £6m 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 livestock chair Hugh Fraser 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 per cent to the total Scottish agricultural output.

“That means the importance of the calf scheme cannot be underestimated. While trade has recently been strong, this does not negate the years of turbulent market returns, and the industry remains fragile.

“We need clarity in the next few weeks on what the reform will look like to provide some form of stability for the suckler herd. Given that bulls are being put in with cows now, it is unreasonable for the Scottish Government to introduce conditionality on next year’s calves without giving the industry the necessary information and details.

“We have been clear that any new conditionality must be proportional and pragmatic. While the Scottish Government’s commitment to retain the existing £40 million budget with an island uplift and commitment to continuing this vital scheme beyond 2025 is welcomed, the finer detail is required.

“It is recognised that 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.”