A growing number of aspiring Scottish farmers feel “frustrated and angry” that a key ambition of the reformed Common Agricultural Policy (Cap) has failed and left them out in the cold without financial support.
Grant aiding genuine new entrants was a basic plank of the 2014 Cap reform, and schemes to support young farmers were introduced under both Pillar 1 direct support and the Pillar 2 Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP). However it is believed 75% of the SRDP budget has been spent in the first year of the schemes, and some of the hundreds of unsuccessful applicants have now started to speak out.
Aspiring Banchory farmer, Duncan Morrison (25) is the first to voice his frustration and admit he feels badly let down by the Government’s promises to support genuine new entrants.
He rented some fields and owned a “handful” of cattle over a two-year period which ended 18 months ago when he found a permanent job. He now has the opportunity to rent 50 acres and build a small herd but has been declared ineligible for grant aid because he had traded in the past.
“In the eyes of the authorities I’m not a new entrant,” he said. “But that’s exactly what I am.
“We hear the Scottish Government has blown the budget in the first year, with grants to applicants of £53,000 over three years. It would have helped if they’d halved that pay-out so there was some money left for more of us. I’d have bitten their hands off for £10,000.”
Mr Morrison said he wasn’t criticising other young farmers for taking the money.
“It’s not their fault that the system is wrong, but some of them don’t need the money. I know of a number of people who’re simply taking over control of their family businesses and entering new partnership agreements. That’s completely wrong because they were going to do that anyway, without financial support,” said Mr Morrison.
“The rules and the way they are being implemented is ridiculous.”
NFU Scotland (NFUS) director of policy, Jonnie Hall confirmed a “good number” of new entrants felt disadvantaged and frustrated by the way the Cap had worked out in practice.
“The Young Farmers and New Entrant start up grants under the SRDP were heavily oversubscribed. The Scottish Government spent 75% of the budget in year one and there are more disappointed than happy folk,” he said.
“Our young, innovative farming folk do feel with some justification that the new system – which was meant to be for them – has not delivered what they expected.”
In a statement a Scottish Government spokeswoman claimed the best ever policy offering had been negotiated for new entrants under Pillar 1.
She said: “Under the new Cap we can use the ‘national reserve’ to give payment entitlements to current new entrants; unlike under the old Cap, we can repeat this in future years so that future new entrants are not frozen out. As we have said before we will use the special provisions we negotiated to put previous new entrants, who lost out under the old Cap, onto a level playing field immediately instead of making them wait till the end of the transition period in 2019.”
Government confirmed that more than 100 young farmers and new entrants had been allocated start-up grants from the SRDP which in 2014-20 includes £8million of support to help new entrants start-up, with some £6million allocated to the Young Farmer Start-up Grant Scheme and £2million to the New Entrant Start-up Grant Scheme. The spokeswoman declined to reveal the number of unsuccessful applicants.