Scottish hill farmers have been granted an extension to the application period under the Scottish Upland Sheep Support Scheme.
Last year, the application period was temporarily extended due to poor weather conditions, which had hampered farmers’ ability to gather flocks from the hills and draw their future breeding stock.
Previously, the application period ran from 1 September to 16 October, with a retention period of 17 October to 31 March the following calendar year to qualify for payments.
But this was changed last year to run from 1 September to 30 November for applications, with a retention period from 1 December to 31 March the following calendar year – and now the Scottish government has made the change permanent.
The scheme itself is worth about £6m/year and is designed to assist active hill farmers and crofters through a payment coupled to the number of ewe hoggs they keep as breeding replacements for their flocks.
The 2016-17 scheme paid out some £6.7m to about 1,050 eligible producers, who received £65.69 an eligible ewe hogg in June and July.
NFU Scotland says the extension will provide greater flexibility and reflect the poor weather and the difficulties farmers and crofters can have in trying to gather hill sheep at that time of year.
“The previous application window meant some had to rush to gather eligible animals and, for some, this gathering would have overlapped with the stag stalking season,” said NFU Scotland’s Less Favoured Areas committee chairman, Robert Macdonald.
“The problems with the weather in 2017 were exceptional, but by no means a one-off and it’s therefore welcome to see the Scottish government make these changes permanent,” he added.
Meanwhile, loan payments under the LFA Support Scheme started to roll earlier this month, worth about £43m to some 7,000 producers in the first tranche.