Opinion: Lower ‘parachute payments’ anger Scottish farmers

A new expression has been introduced into the Scottish vocabulary. The Less Favoured Area Support Scheme (LFASS) is being brought to an end with a much reduced ‘parachute payment’ in 2018.

The analogy of a passenger being handed a parachute on board a plane which is going to crash is a good one.

The EU has decreed that if LFASS continues to be used in 2018, everyone on board must not get more than 80% of their usual LFASS payment.

However, the pilot of the LFASS plane (Scot Gov) and the co-pilot (NFUS) are both prepared to take the trusty old plane up again for one last time in 2018.  

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We will be told to relax and enjoy the flight and not be alarmed if we experience a little bit of turbulence soon after take-off. That will just be the other 20% of LFASS budget being flushed out of the toilet at the back of the plane into another budget.

Normally, NFUS would be jumping up and down at the very mention of support payments being reduced to their members, but not on this occasion. So, it’s back to the aeroplane analogy to explain why that is.

Neale McQuistinNeale McQuistin is an upland beef and sheep farmer in south-west Scotland

Over the years, beef farmers on the LFASS flight out of Edinburgh have been flying first class. Farmers who had a large proportion of suckler cows in their enterprise mix were given extra legroom (support payments).

However, the aeroplane (the budget) never got any bigger. So, when the farmers with lots of cows got more legroom it meant the farmers in economy class with relatively few cows were given less legroom in their seats (farms/crofts).

The big air-traffic controllers in Brussels didn’t like the way Scotland’s LFASS scheme worked. Scotland was told to mend its ways and adopt the new Areas of Natural Constraint scheme (ANC) before 2018.

The ANC scheme provides a payment to farmers with land in constrained areas. It’s designed to compensate for all or part of the additional costs and income forgone related purely to the constraints for agricultural production in an area.

But when Scotgov and NFUS compared all the different scenarios of what would happen to support payments if they adopted an ANC scheme a shiver ran up their spine.

Unsurprisingly, every model showed that support would move towards areas of natural constraint. They should have known that; there was a clue in the name.

Scotgov and NFUS have presented these models as being evidence that ANC is unworkable. However, looked at from a different perspective, the models are damning evidence that the LFASS scheme has successfully directed support away from areas of Scotland that were constrained and towards very productive areas. They didn’t need to make models to prove that fact. They only needed to look at the empty hills in the remote parts of Scotland.

The LFASS scheme has been twisted out of shape and now it’s broken. The NFUS can’t blame the government because they encouraged the government to twist it out of shape. 

So, NFUS is now very, very quietly helping the government get ready to hand out the much reduced parachute payments in 2018.

The trouble is there are plenty of farmers who could have been looking forward to receiving the same, if not increased, support if an ANC scheme had been brought in before 2018.  

They are not too happy about the prospect of being handed a reduced parachute payment that is designed to save the farmers who have been traveling first class in the LFASS scheme for many years.

I can’t say that I blame them.