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Farmers will receive LFASS payments into 2020, says government

LFASS payments can be vital to farmers and crofters in Scotland.

Following on from recent concerns over the future of the Less Favoured Area Support Scheme (LFASS) in Scotland, the Scottish Government has said farmers in remote areas will continue to receive assistance into 2020.

Following changes to the regulations around LFASS, made by the European Commission, LFASS support will be retained at 80 per cent in 2019 and 40 per cent in 2020 — the only part of the UK to continue such a payment.

However, the Scottish farmers union have said any shortfall in LFASS support is “completely unacceptable” and it is working to come up with solutions which would restore the £65 million LFASS budget.

Rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing said: “LFASS is crucial for our hill farmers and crofters operating in some of our most remote and marginalised areas. That is why I am pleased to confirm they will continue to receive payments at 80 per cent and 40 per cent into 2020.

“I fully accept that this is not ideal, but under changes to EU regulations there is no option but to revise payment rates down. Importantly, we are clear this change will not impact on those who receive the minimum payment of £385, which is not being reduced.

“Our hill farmers and crofters continue to face significant challenges from both adverse weather and Brexit uncertainties and we are already seeing reduced livestock numbers and land abandonment.

“Therefore, I will continue to strongly push for further revisions and have submitted proposed amendments to give more flexibility in setting the rates for 2020 — a move I fully expect the UK Government to support.”

Responding to Mr Ewing’s announcement, Jonnie Hall, NFU Scotland’s director of policy said: “While the comments from Scottish Government come as no surprise, any shortfall in LFA support remains completely unacceptable to NFU Scotland. This is currently a top priority for the Union and we continue to meet with Scottish Government to press for workable solutions to make good any shortfall.

“We believe there are both practical and legal ways forward to resolve the LFASS shortfalls for 2019 and 2020. The issue now is whether Scottish Government is willing to run with such approaches and to fully restore the £65 million LFASS budget which is more critical than ever.

“The net result of cuts to LFASS, unless reversed, will be a significant reduction in cashflow to our most rural communities, challenging our more extensive livestock sectors and the Scotch brand it underpins and the risk of yet more agricultural land abandonment in some quarters.  LFASS payments provide a vital financial lifeline to those who are trying to eek out a living from some of the hardest land in the country. For them to lose out on any of this support would not only be devastating for their businesses but also for the natural environments which they sustain.

“Given a primary objective of LFASS or ANC support is the prevention of land abandonment, it is undeniable that continuity of LFASS payments at current levels is needed in order to ensure continued agricultural activity in remote and more disadvantaged areas. Critical LFASS payments are a significant injection of cash flow in to rural economies — this money is spent locally by active farming businesses to support local employment and provide new opportunities.

“The Union’s position is that the LFASS payments are absolutely vital and any cut in them must be avoided at all costs. This is a message we continue to take to our political representatives.”

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