Wet weather prompts calls for SUSSS extention
THE FIFTH wettest summer on record has left Scotland’s hill farmers struggling to complete routine tasks such as gathering and clipping sheep, weaning lambs and making hay or silage.
Since the start of June, the Met Office reports that the west of Scotland has been the wettest region of the UK with more than half a metre of rain falling in the three months to August 30.
With hill farmers and crofters significantly behind in their workload, it makes submitting an accurate application to the Scottish Upland Sheep Support Scheme (SUSSS) ahead of the October 16 deadline extremely challenging for some.
The scheme, worth around £6 million, 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. Applications opened on September 1.
In a letter to Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing, NFU Scotland has requested that the Scottish Government seek European approval for a one-off extension to the application period for SUSSS to at least November 16 in recognition of the exceptionally poor weather.
Previous efforts by NFUS to have the Scottish Government change some scheme rules to target support better have been unsuccessful.
Vice president Martin Kennedy, chairman of the union’s less favoured areas committee said: ‘When committee members met recently it was crystal clear just how far behind our farmers and crofters are in their normal workload.
‘NFU Scotland believes there is strong grounds for the Scottish Government to pursue with the European Commission an extension to the application deadline due to the very challenging circumstances facing those who are reliant on SUSSS.
‘Given this year’s extremely poor weather, especially in the west, not only do some farmers and crofters not have any winter fodder made, but they have had little or no opportunity to gather some of these extensive hillsides to clip, wean lambs and draw their future breeding stock.
‘These are routine tasks normally completed long before now but persistent rain and mist have made safe gathering almost impossible in places.
‘This is a critical scheme for hill farmers and crofters – an extension to the application deadline this year would not only assist those late gatherers caught by the weather but also take into account any hills which cannot be gathered before the stag stalking season ends (October 20) and where gathering is often restricted to Sundays only.
‘I have written to the cabinet secretary urging him to contact the commission and seek approval for the 2017 deadline for application to SUSSS to be extended to at least November 16, and preferably to November 30, to allow those in this situation to submit their applications accurately and on time.
‘I firmly believe this small change will not make a difference to the inspection regime nor will it have any detrimental effect on calculation of eligibility or payment, but will make a massive difference to those who find the current deadline particularly challenging this year.’