The Scottish Government has confirmed further cuts to Less Favoured Areas Support Scheme (LFASS) payments for the next two years.
The cuts, branded unacceptable by farm leaders, were announced by Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing.
He said compulsory changes to EU regulations meant payments would reduce by 20% this year and by 60%, or possibly even 80%, next year.
EU rules require a reduction to 20% of current levels in 2020, however Scottish Government hopes to take advantage of an EU proposal to make this 40%.
“I fully accept that this is not ideal, but under changes to EU regulations there is no option but to revise payment rates down,” said Mr Ewing.
“Importantly, we are clear this change will not impact on those who receive the minimum payment of £385, which is not being reduced.
“I will continue to strongly push for further revisions and have submitted my proposed amendments to give more flexibility in setting the rates for 2020 – a move I fully expect the UK Government to support.”
National Sheep Association chairman for Scotland John Fyall described the cuts as “terrible news for the upland livestock sector” and news the industry could not accept.
He said: “There has been no change to the financing or need for this measure, only the delivery mechanism.
“We have known for several years this cut was coming and we have not applied for a derogation or found another delivery method.”
In a scathing attack on the Scottish Government. Mr Fyall said this year’s budget, where the initial cut of 20% was announced, makes a “false and disingenuous statement trying to blame the lack of alternative on Brexit”.
He added: “It has been within the power of the Scottish Government for four years to get an alternative. While some of that falls to the stakeholders, Mr Ewing must not allow Derek Mackay (Finance Secretary) to help himself to the £65million per annum committed to LFASS until 2020.”
NFU Scotland said that, while the cuts were expected, any shortfall in LFASS remains completely unacceptable.
The union’s director of policy Jonnie Hall said he believed there were both practical and legal ways to resolve LFASS shortfalls and fully restore the £65m budget.
He said: “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 abandonment in some quarters.
“LFASS payments provide a vital financial lifeline for those who are trying to eek 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 to their businesses but also for the natural environments which they sustain.”