Energy minister Fergus Ewing has jumped to the defence of farm minister Richard Lochhead telling a group of farmers “his [Lochhead] heart beats passionately for the Scottish farming community”.
Speaking at an NFU Scotland hustings event in Dingwall, Mr Ewing acknowledged government failings in getting Common Agricultural Policy (Cap) payments out on time and said lessons must be learnt in future.
“Although there have been tough times, we should remember that Richard is a man who has worked very had for the farming community. He has done much good for the farming community over the past few years,” said Mr Ewing.
“The issue over the Cap payments has caused us all a lot of concern. Richard Lochhead has apologised for this and we are now busting a gut to get the payments out on time.”
Scottish Conservatives candidate Edward Mountain called for an independent inquiry into why subsidy payments have not been made and why the government’s new IT system for farm payments, which is estimated to be costing around £178million to create, was not working properly.
Scottish Labour candidate Sean Morton echoed Mr Mountain’s concerns and accused the SNP of letting farmers and crofters down.
He said: “We already live in a desperate economy and a government that is not competent enough to pay you on time is not a government that deserves your support.”
Scottish Green Party candidate Isla O’Reilly called for the creation of a food, health and farming act and said her party would lobby to ensure Scotland’s ban on growing genetically modified (GM) crops was maintained as well as lobbying for a ban on the use of neonicotinoids in Scotland.
UKIP candidate Philip Anderson warned against the impact of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – the proposed trade deal between North America and Europe.
He said: “If we see American beef appearing in to the EU wholesale, our beef sector is over.”
The upcoming referendum over Britain’s membership of the European Union was a hot topic at the event with all candidates, with the exception of Mr Anderson, united in wanting Britain to remain in the union.
Candidates were also grilled on issues such as free prescription charges, the Land Reform Bill and whether or not it was right for a politician to serve in two jobs.
NFU Scotland is hosting a hustings event for north-east members next week.
The event takes place at the Kintore Arms, Inverurie, on Thursday April 28 at 7pm.