Subsidy loan payments worth almost £296 million have started arriving in the bank accounts of farmers and crofters across Scotland.
Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said the first run of payments through the National Basic Payment Support Scheme was made to 11,885 farmers and crofters this week.
The scheme offers interest-free loans, or advanced payments, worth up to 95% of an eligible producer’s 2020 Basic Payment Scheme and Greening payments through the Common Agricultural Policy.
The loan payments are restricted to a maximum of £133,638.
Mr Ewing said this is the earliest the payments have been made since the annual loan scheme was launched in 2016.
The scheme was originally launched to issue payments following problems with the government’s new IT system for farm subsidies, which led to a farmer rally outside Holyrood and calls for the then rural secretary, Richard Lochhead, to resign.
“Paying these loans early is the single biggest action I can take to help those who have done so much to keep us fed during lockdown,” said Mr Ewing.
“I am pleased that the first payments have gone out a month earlier than 2019 and that we are the first administration in the UK to get support out to farmers and crofters this year.”
He said the pandemic had put a huge strain on the rural economy, and he hoped farmers and crofters would use their loan payments where they can to support the wider agricultural supply chain and other farming related businesses.
“Of course, this can only happen if all farmers and crofters respond to the letter offering a loan,” added Mr Ewing.
“I would encourage any eligible farmer, crofter or land manager who has yet to return their loan offer to do so at the earliest opportunity so we can pay them as quickly as possible.”
He said loan offers totalling more than £356m had been made to more than 16,600 eligible agricultural businesses, which represent 97% of eligible claims, and more offers would be made in the weeks ahead.