The Scottish government has vowed to find practical solutions for the problem’s faced by the country’s hill farmers.

During a visit of NFU Scotland’s Less Favoured Areas committee in Edinburgh this week (1 December), Scottish farming minister Richard Lochead was told by livestock farmers that the £61m Less Favoured Areas Support Scheme had to be more carefully targeted.

The Scottish government is consulting the industry on the future shape of the scheme from 2010 to 2013.

In a statement after the meeting, Mr Lochhead said he better understood the pressures livestock farmers faced and recognised LFA support needed to be more effective.

“We have to ensure that every pound of public support is effectively targeted to deliver benefits for rural Scotland,” he said. “The right kind of activity also has to be supported.”

Sandy Tulloch LFA committee chairman, said the meeting was vital, as the loss of stock in the hills and uplands could be the “beginning of an exodus”, with serious consequences for the countryside, communities and consumers.

“LFASS payments have to be linked to farming activity,” he said.

“Payments made under the scheme need to recognise those who are actively keeping livestock and, therefore, contributing to Scotland’s reputation as a producer of quality food and drink.”

The latest forecasts for LFA profitability in 2008 are bleak. Without LFA and single farm payment support, sheep losses are expected to be between £13 and £27 a ewe.

On LFA cattle enterprises net losses will spiral to between £247 and £302 a cow.