CROFTERS and hill farmers in the Highlands and Islands will benefit from a much needed cash injection of £160 million after the Scottish Government confirmed that the convergence funding will go to the lowest paid producers.
The first instalment of £80 million of EU convergence funding addresses an “historic injustice” as these funds were meant to reach crofters and hill farmers in Scotland many years ago but were instead distributed across the UK.
Scottish Crofting Foundation (SCF) chair Yvonne White said it was gratifying that the Scottish Government had listened to the union’s arguments for a fair and principled distribution of the funding within Scotland.
Convergence is about raising the income of the lowest paid producers towards the EU average.
In Scotland these producers are crofters and hill farmers, many of whom are barely surviving – not helped by the very low payments for rough grazing, the SCF said.
“The fact that the initial payments will be made in this financial year is a big plus,” White said.
But she warned the Scottish Government that allocating the convergence funding could not be a substitute for the losses endured under the fess favoured areas support scheme (LFASS).
“The Cabinet Secretary’s [Fergus Ewing] mention of his commitment to maintain support for farmers and crofters in the less favoured area is appreciated, but we have to reiterate that the convergence uplift is not a means of making up for the LFASS reduction caused by Scottish Government failing to join the new European scheme for constrained areas,” White said.
“Taking the money owed to poorly paid producers to make up a budget deficit of Scottish Government’s own making would be wrong.”
Highlands and Islands SNP MSP Maree Todd said Scottish farmers and crofter have been “short-changed” by the UK Government for many years.
“This is money that was hard fought for over many years, and I am delighted for farmers in the Highlands & Islands that the £160 million of convergence money that the UK government tried to appropriate from Scotland has been returned,” she said.
“This funding will play a vital role in helping us meet our agricultural commitments and will make a crucial difference to the future viability of Scotland’s farming industry.
“However, Brexit is by far the biggest threat to Scotland’s farming and crofting communities, but this funding will help to provide some security to Highlands & Islands farmers during these uncertain times.”
White added: “The details of the actual mechanisms by which the payments will be distributed to where they belong in our crofting, marginal uplands, hill farms and island areas are yet to be announced and we await these with interest”.