Scotland’s most vulnerable beef farmers will continue to receive financial aid as part of an interim government scheme to replace current support payments.

The €30m Scottish Beef Scheme will target payments towards small farms in hills and other less favoured areas where conditions are deemed as very poor.

The scheme, which will come into force from January 1 2012, replaces the Scottish Beef Cattle Scheme, which was introduced in 2005 in a bid to enhance the environment by supporting cattle grazing – particularly in remote areas.

Under Common Agricultural Policy legislation, the SBCS must come to an end next year and a new scheme that targets specific disadvantages must be introduced.

Scotland’s rural affairs minister Richard Lochhead said it was vital beef producers in the Scottish hills were given support, as many of them struggled to make a profit.

“The new Scottish Beef Scheme allows us to target funding towards smaller herds through reweighted payment levels, so that the first 10 eligible calves receive three times the payment rate for any subsequent calf,” he said.

“This will benefit the majority of claimants and is in line with the recommendations of the Pack Inquiry.

“To avoid unnecessary burdens on producers we are making the minimum changes needed to ensure the new scheme complies with EU requirements,” he added.

“Importantly, we have ensured that funding continues at current levels until new CAP regulations come into force.”

NFU Scotland’s president Nigel Miller said the interim announcement guaranteed the country’s beef industry would be supported until a new CAP package was put in place.

“That removes any uncertainty that beef producers may have had on the immediate future and crucially buys some time for Scotland and stakeholders to continue to develop their thinking on how best to support extensive livestock under any new CAP regime,” he said.

“A solution is important as more than 422,000 beef calves born in Scotland last year qualified for the SBCS payment, underpinning Scotland’s important beef industry.”

Mr Lochhead said the decision to target funding towards the most vulnerable producers would make a huge difference to crofters, small farmers and new entrants.

“For them, the economics of keeping cows, particularly in more remote areas, is dependent on ongoing support,” he added.

“For larger beef farmers, where returns from the SBCS are a smaller part of their overall turnover, it is important that any dip in support is more than compensated for by more meaningful returns being generated from the marketplace for their cattle. “These producers are the engine room of Scotland’s world-renowned beef industry and it is important that consumers, retailers and processors give them suitable encouragement to continue to grow their beef enterprises.”