The Scottish Beef Association (SBA) is calling on the Scottish Government to stop the rollout of the future Scottish Suckler Beef Support Scheme (SSBSS) following uncertainty over rules.

The SBA’s announcement follows the Scottish Government clarifying that a calving interval of 410 days or less is needed from dams to make their future calves eligible. This measure was described as helping to ‘cut emissions intensity and make beef production more efficient’.

Despite the update, the SBA is worried that actions farmers take in 2024 could have a negative impact on support claims next year and complain that ‘producers have not been kept in the loop’.

In a letter to the Scottish Government, the SBA states: “We cannot support the introduction of the new conditionality on this support scheme through a backward-looking lens.

The Scottish Farmer: The Scottish Beef Association want a delay to the new scheme rulesThe Scottish Beef Association want a delay to the new scheme rules

“Introducing an updated Calf Scheme midway through a reference period is unjust and unfair on our suckler cow farm businesses and the industry as a whole.”

The SBA points out that on many suckler farms the calf scheme equates to over one-third of income support – before going on to state cow numbers have already been severely reduced as confidence is ‘weak’. It wants to see ‘incentives from government, not more barriers and extra burdens and reasons for farmers to put cows off’. This is in the face of some of the most positive pricing for beef cattle in a generation, with deadweight cattle more than £5/kg and store cattle regularly achieving £3/kg through auction markets.

One of the key concerns of the SBA is the potential requirement for dead calves born in 2024 to be tagged and registered by the producer to ensure the dam has a calving index for the year 2025.

Elsewhere, the beef scheme update received a ‘lukewarm’ welcome from the Institute of Auctioneers and Appraisers in Scotland (IAAS).

Executive director of IAAS, Neil Wilson, stated: “Specifically, it was helpful to hear exactly how the government proposes to add conditions to the Scottish Suckler Beef Support Scheme which affects many of our members’ customers. The commitment of the scheme’s duration until 2028 gives farm businesses some certainty for a period of time.

“However, we did not feel there was sufficient clarity around the budget for a scheme that was initially put in place to support suckler beef farming. This could easily be corrected by a further government announcement committing allocation of associated funding through to 2028 and ringfencing the current budget for all eligible calves.”

NFU Scotland’s livestock committee chair Hugh Fraser said: “The 410-day calving interval has been widely discussed and debated. It is acknowledged that this is a figure that the majority of Scottish beef herds are likely to be able to achieve while for some it will be challenging.

“We would encourage members to look at their own calving interval on MyHerdStats and remind them that the announcement reiterates the scheme will be delivered on the individual cow basis rather than herd average. It is a measure designed to improve industry efficiency.

“We note that it will be summer before further clarity through the extensive guidance on new scheme rules will be published. However, the Scottish Government has indicated that there is the potential for the calving interval figure to reduce in future years. Given that is the case, we would want the final scheme detail to include a comprehensive and clear clause for ‘force majeure’ to assist those herds where circumstances out of their control impact on their ability to hit the calving interval target.”.

Rural affairs secretary Mairi Gougeon said: “As we have said for some time, support for farming in Scotland is changing. From 2025, farmers and crofters will have to deliver new things in return for basic payments. These changes will allow us to continue to produce high quality food and to do so in a way that helps us to tackle climate change and enhance nature.

“As we continue the transition to a new agricultural support framework, we want to make sure that farmers and crofters know exactly what they need to do to prepare for this change. Through our Agricultural Reform route map, supported with extensive engagement with the sector, we are making sure the sector is kept informed of key updates to future support.

“It is clear that many farmers and crofters have already begun this journey successfully. I would urge all farmers and crofters to look at the available information, to ensure they are ready for the changes to come.”