Creating a sustainable future for Scottish farming and land-based businesses will be the driving force behind the Scottish Executive’s rural development strategy to be implemented over the next seven years.

The Scottish Executive launched a consultation on rural development at Holyrood last week.

Its aim is to guide the future use of EU funding and other land-based industry resources by underpinning performance and quality in the farming, food and forestry sectors; enhance rural landscape and promote a more diverse rural economy.

Launching the strategy, Ross Finnie, Scotland’s minister for environment and rural development, admitted that funds for future environment support were still the subject of “tough negotiations”.

He said the 60m paid each year to farmers in less favoured areas could be at risk because of last December’s UK negotiations on the EU budget.

The National Farmers Union of Scotland has calculated that the EU rural development budget will be cut by 14bn over the next seven years.

But Mr Finnie was up-beat about the impact on the new rural development strategy.

“We want to see more opportunities to retain the energy and entrepreneurialism of young people in rural areas including skills training, biodiversity, work with water resources, animal health and welfare and open access to facilitate economic development.”

Just how much cash will eventually be secured for Scotland’s LFA continues to be debated.

Mr Finnie has made it clear that the special requirements of crofting must not be put at risk – although he has admitted that the EU has not been easy to convince.

Mr Finnie also announced that from 2007, Land Management Contracts will be offered to farmers who wish to use common land to graze stock.

NFUS president John Kinnaird, who farms cereals, suckler cows and sheep in East Lothian, said any cut in LFA support would be “very dangerous”.

“I am not an LFA farmer but we all acknowledge the absolutely vital role this sector plays in our industry.

“Agriculture is having to cope with major changes – the most significant in a lifetime – so to start tinkering with the support that goes into the LFA sector would completely knock confidence and be highly irresponsible.”

jh@jeremyhuntassociates.com