Rural Affairs Minister Fergus Ewing is likely to face close questioning at his next meeting with NFU Scotland after the surreptitious disappearance of £154.76 million from the government’s Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP) Pillar 2 budget.
In answer to a question from South Scotland SNP MSP Emma Harper on October 24, Mr Ewing gave the indicative budget figure for the period 2014 to 2020 as £1,196.24m which compares with a figure of £1,351m given on March 31 2017.
All the various schemes coming under Pillar 2 have been hit except the forestry grant and the new entrant schemes, with the less favoured areas support scheme (LFASS) and the agri-environment climate scheme taking the biggest hits of £56m and £61m.
Some spending has been reduced because of lack of uptake but the government has been chipping away at other schemes to divert to other budgets.
Dr Gerald Banks, farm consultant and former NFUS environment and land use committee chairman, said: “It’s incredible that a government claiming green credentials should close the agri-environment scheme, despite an under-spend of £61m.
“The government is already coming under fire for using some of the recent windfall of £160m EU convergence money to prop up the LFASS budget for which it was not intended.”
The union’s policy director, Jonny Hall, said the farming industry was facing the most challenging time he could remember because of a combination of Brexit, weather and the instability of markets, with no sector immune from political influence.
The £160m bonus was welcome but would not solve the financial crisis.
The crucial issue was the need to exit the EU with a deal and the development of a post-Brexit policy which supported farmers and helped improve productivity while protecting the environment.