A lifeline package for Scotland’s beleaguered sheep industry will be presented to the Scottish government in Edinburgh today (Friday) by a delegation from the National Sheep Association.

It is believed that funding for a raft of measures to improve profitability across the sector and prevent further erosion of the Scottish sheep flock – currently at its lowest level since the 1920s – could be found within the Scottish Rural Development Programme budget.

The plan to call for a sheep improvement package was revealed at this week’s joint NSA and Scottish Beef Cattle Association conference in Bridge of Allan by NSA Scottish secretary George Milne.

Mr Milne confirmed that proposals included a subsidised ram scheme and gimmer replacement programme for small-scale producers. The plan also highlighted the need for funding for new fencing, transport and improvements to the land, such as liming, together with sheep-handling equipment for producers who work alone on extensive systems. The NSA said it would ask the government to consider support for lamb finishers, who, Mr Milne said, were disappearing rapidly because of increases in haulage costs.

“By the time many lambs are slaughtered, they have stacked up £10 a head worth of haulage,” he said. “We need to see better collaboration between finishers and breeders. With careful thought, a scheme could benefit the whole industry.”

Rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead told the conference a sheep improvement scheme sounded “feasible” within the SRDP rules, and he appealed to the audience to feed back their other priorities for what he called a “pivotal year” for Scottish agriculture.

“You need to help us decide on the best way forward. We have to recognise that economic constraints apply to agriculture as well as other parts of life. But it is now time to start taking decisions on the best way to benefit from the good deal delivered in Brussels at the end of last year. What can be achieved may be tight, but your views are invaluable.”

Mr Lochhead confirmed that 94% of claims for the single farm payment had been paid, and Scotland’s hill farmers would start receiving their Less Favoured Areas Support Scheme cheques from this weekend, two weeks earlier than last year.