NFU Scotland’s Less Favoured Areas Committee has used the payment run under the latest round of the Scottish Upland Sheep Support Scheme (SUSSS) to call for extensive grazing to be part of future support plans.

Last week, the Scottish Government confirmed that 97% of the eligible applications to SUSSS were processed. The scheme, valued at £7m, has been running for nine years and supports home-bred ewe hoggs on extensive hill farms and crofts.

This year’s payment rates are much the same as the year previous at £61.38 per eligible ewe hogg (vs £61.25 in 2022) At 115,627, there was a very slight drop in the number of eligible animals, while the number of eligible businesses remains stagnant at 1134.

Chair of NFU Scotland’s Less Favoured Areas committee Peter Kennedy, a hill farmer from Glendaruel in Argyll said: “While it is hugely positive that the scheme has provided continual support to our hill farmers and crofters for nine years, we must turn our attention to how the livestock producers in some of our more remote and challenging areas will be supported going forward.

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Scottish Government has been clear that coupled support is changing as part of the current agricultural policy reforms. It has committed to continuing SUSSS in 2025 and 2026 but it may be delivered using a different model.

“The LFA committee at NFU Scotland wants the importance of livestock grazing in the disadvantaged areas to be a significant part of that future policy debate.

“Our favoured model is for a Disadvantaged Area Support package to be created, under Tier 2 of the proposed new arrangements, which recognises and rewards the role of extensive livestock grazing and management in delivering public goods. Notably biodiversity enhancement, habit management and carbon sequestration.

“While other areas of future support look to reward productivity and efficiency for contributions to climate mitigation, it is of equal importance that extensive livestock farming and crofting is also supported.

“Two simple support packages are needed. One for extensive cattle management and one that replicates the many benefits that SUSSS has delivered to those who keep sheep in Scotland’s hills and uplands in the past nine years.”