SCOTTISH AGRICULTURE minister Ross Finnie has called on growers to use the new single farm payment scheme to think about how farming returns can be improved.

Speaking at the Scottish Crops Conference at the Battleby Centre near Perth, Mr Finnie said there was a gap of 43% between the best and worst performing specialist cereals farmers.

“We have to look closely at how we can work with those at the bottom end to bring them up towards the top end,” he said.

Those in the top 25% produced £1.16 for every £1 of inputs, the minister said, while the bottom quartile only managed 81p per pound spent.

With growers able to receive the single farm payment without the obligation to grow a crop, there was a challenge to ensure they had a market for what they produced.

“It can be difficult to meet and anticipate customers‘ needs, but quality remains an important factor in determining a price and the market for your crop,” he told delegates.

The Scottish Executive was supportive of innovation to expand market opportunity, Mr Finnie said.

Since 2001, it had awarded over £400,000 in grants to the cereals processing sector to develop innovative products, add value and shorten the supply chain.

“As a small country, we will not challenge in volume. But we can challenge in quality.”

Non-food crops, such as those for energy and the health industries, offered new opportunity, he added.

Commenting on the need for prompt payment of arable aid given current low prices on the back of a difficult harvest, Mr Finnie  announced that £109m of a total £122m of aid payments would “flow into producers‘ bank accounts” from Tuesday Nov 16, the earliest possible date under EU rules.

“Payments for the Energy Crops Scheme and for the Protein Crop Premium will start on Wednesday Dec 1, again, the first possible day,” he added.

The £122m takes into account the final overshoot figure of 1.41%, slightly less than the provisional figure of 1.7% announced earlier in the year. It is also less than last year‘s overshoot figure of 2.2%.

On modulation, Mr Finnie said the rate would be announced shortly. “It will be phased in over the next four years and will indicate the amount available for [the new] land management contracts.”

National modulation, as opposed to EU compulsory modulation, would have to be match funded “for that to make sense”, he explained, but that this was yet to be approved.

“If you hear announcements on land management contracts, you can assume we‘ve reached some agreement with the Treasury on match funding.”