Wet weather prompts calls for SUSSS ex­ten­tion

The Oban Times - - FARMING -

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.’

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