The Scottish Government has been accused of “short-changing” the farming sector to the tune of £33 million by using convergence uplift funds to top up the Less Favoured Area Support Scheme (LFASS) budget.
Farmers’ union NFU Scotland (NFUS) made the comments after the government said some of the second tranche of convergence funding, worth £70m, will be used to restore the LFASS budget.
Convergence funds are additional Common Agricultural Policy (Cap) monies allocated to the UK to bring Scotland’s per-hectare subsidy average up.
At the time of its allocation, not all of the money came to Scotland and the UK Government vowed to “correct that decision” by awarding £160m to Scots farmers in 2019.
Rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing previously revealed his spending plans for £80m of the total convergence funding pot and said all eligible producers would receive a share, but the bulk would go to those farming Region 2 and Region 3land, and payments would be capped at £55,000 per business.
The payments were issued in March last year.
Mr Ewing has now confirmed some of the remaining convergence funds will be used to restore the LFASS budget, which has been reduced to 40% of its original levels due to EU rules.
He said the rest of the convergence funds will be paid to around 18,000 eligible farmers and crofters by the end of this month.
NFUS president Andrew McCornick, questioned the use of convergence funds for LFASS and accused the Scottish Government of undervaluing Region 1 land, which is essentially the most productive land in Scotland.
“Using convergence funding borne out of direct support to bail out the shortfall in LFASS in this manner short-changes the whole of Scottish agriculture again – this time leaving some £33m less for top-ups to basic payments for all,” said Mr McCornick.
“With almost £39m then left in the pot to go to the intended basic payments targets, it is also very disappointing and ill-judged that greater recognition has not been given to the value of Region 1 land across every farm and croft.”
Meanwhile, the Scottish Crofting Federation’s newly appointed chairman, Donald MacKinnon, who crofts on the Isle of Lewis, welcomed the news and said: “The convergence uplift money was clearly intended for crofters and farmers on rough grazing.
“We have argued this point since the money came to Scotland.”