Davy McCracken, SAC© Davy McCracken, SAC

Scottish sheep producers are being given an extra six weeks to apply for this year’s upland sheep support scheme, following a government decision to extended it because of the recent wet weather.

Announcing the extension to 30 November, rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing said he was very conscious of the poor weather conditions that have hampered farmers’ ability to gather flocks from the hills and draw their future breeding stock.

See also: What were Scots sheep farmers paid for 2016/17?

“Despite this extension, I would urge all farmers who wish to do so to submit their applications online as soon as possible and not wait until the last moment,” he added.

The support scheme is intended to help farmers on the poorest quality land to maintain the social and environmental benefits that sheep flocks bring to those areas.

The 2016/17 scheme paid out some £6.7m to about 1,050 eligible producers, who received £65.69 per eligible ewe hogg in June and July.

“Our sheep sector contributes more than £200m a year to the rural economy, so it is only right that we offer them as much support and flexibility as possible within the confines of EU legislation,” said Mr Ewing.

Lifeline

NFU Scotland vice president Martin Kennedy, welcomed the extension, describing the support as “a lifeline”.

“Faced with the fifth-wettest summer on record, hill farmers remain significantly behind in their workload, which would have made submitting an accurate application to the Scottish Upland Sheep Support Scheme ahead of the 16 October deadline extremely challenging for some.”

While the application deadline is being extended from 16 October to 30 November 2017, the retention period under the scheme remains the same, from 17 October to 31 March 2018.

To qualify for payments, producers must have home-bred ewe hogs, no more than 200ha of Payment Region 1 land, and 80% of their holding must consist of land in Payment Region 3.