HLCAs are lifeblood for upland farmers
By Allan Wright
HILL livestock compensatory allowances are the lifeblood for most upland farms in Scotland.
No exception is the Durno family at Auchorachan, Banffshire. Its income from HLCAs this year will be about £25,000.
That is more than 100% of net profit and could reach 120% when stock values are written down because of the BSE crisis.
"Four years ago, HLCAs made up 80% of net profit, then it fell to 60% and 47% over the next two years. Higher feed costs in 1995 took it back up to 100% and this year will be higher," said Jo Durno.
The farm covers 179ha (442 acres) with high hill grazings of 911ha (2250 acres). Duncan Durno is now 83 but still does a full days work. His son Leslie (Jos husband) and their son, Michael, work full-time on the farm.
Michaels wife, Morag, helps out with lambing, calvings, and preparing show cattle. The fourth generation, Craig, arrived earlier this year.
The unit runs 173 suckler cows, mainly autumn calving, which are housed from October until there is a bite of grass after the 670 Blackface ewes have lambed and departed for the high, up to 762m (2500ft), hill grazings in mid-May. Summer grazing is also rented for a proportion of the cattle.
The farms net farming income of £25,000 is much higher than the average for hill beef and sheep farms, according to Mrs Durno.
"For us it represents the money to keep three families going and reinvest in the business. Divide by three and you are much nearer the sum for a typical husband and wife partnership in this area," she said.
The familys weekly drawings are never more than the basic wage for a farmworker, so there is little money for reinvestment. Most hill farmers are working for less than a living wage, said Mrs Durno.
"Most of us keep going because it is a way of life. We know nothing else. But this is a crisis year and the autumn calf sales will bring home the seriousness of the crisis," said Mrs Durno.
The farm has no option but sell at this time of year. It does not have the housing or the winter feed to carry stock over. Calves must also be sold to accommodate the sheep coming down from the hill for the winter.
The real measure of the BSE crisis will come next month when we expect to see calf prices 20% down on the year," said Leslie Durno.
"Unfortunately, higher lamb prices will not compensate on this farm."
SCOTS HCLA PAYMENTS
• Worth £40m.
• Account for 10% of direct payments to Scottish farming.
• 60% support beef producers.
• 40% support sheep producers.
• Paid to 16,000 farmers and crofters.
• Most money goes to 7500 extensive upland sheep units and 4500 cattle and sheep farmers.
Four generations depending on HLCAs: Michael (left) young Craig, Leslie and grandfather Duncan, who still puts in a full days work on the farm.