Payments to Scottish sheep farmers delayed

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Scotland has expressed disappointment over delayed payments under Scotland’s new Upland Sheep Support Scheme (SUSS).

The initiative is designed to help active hill farmers and crofters through a payment coupled to the number of ewe hoggs they keep. However, the union has said that the payments are being pushed to the back of the queue when it comes to the Scottish government sorting out payments, and issues surrounding the IT system created to help process claims.

As of present, no payments from SUSS – which is worth around £6 million (m) – have been made. Furthermore, no timeline for payments has been given and confirmation of the likely payment rate per ewe hogg has not been made.

To overcome these issues, NFU Scotland has suggested improvements be made to the scheme in time for next year.

Among the changes recommended by the union are a wider application period; a new retention period and the number of ewe hoggs claimed being limited to no more than 25% of the breeding flock.

“Directing precious CAP [Common Agricultural Policy] funding at those actively farming remains a key priority for Scotland. SUSS was specifically designed to assist those keeping hill sheep in some of Scotland’s most extensive and remote parts through making payments on the ewe hoggs being kept as the next generation of their flocks,” wrote NFU Scotland’s director of policy Jonnie Hall to the Scottish government.

“However, with payments yet to be made from this vital £6m pot, there is no clear understanding of the financial and activity of SUSS.

“Therefore, NFU Scotland is not seeking to amend the budget of payment rate components of the scheme. Instead, we want to make it more effective and better aligned to the interests of the hill farmers and crofters it is intended to support.”

“Although having still to complete its first year, and an expectation that claims the scheme will likely mean a reduction in the estimated payment rate of €100 per ewe hogg, we believe there are strong arguments to amend SUSS to make it more practical and effective for those sheepkeepers reliant on Region 3 land.”

Hall said that from the outset, many applications to the scheme have had “significant misgivings” about the application and retention period. He claimed that the application period is too short as not everybody is able to access hill ground before the end of the application period (16 October) due to their lease, whilst some are unable to gather all their eligible animals in such a narrow time frame.

“As a result, we are proposing that the application period for SUSS be altered from the existing window of 1 September to 16 October to a new application period of 1 October until 31 December. The 31 December deadline for the application period would then signal the start of a new retention period of 1 January to 31 March.”

According to the union, these changes would meet the requirements of the inspection regime, and would give those farmers and crofters that depend on the scheme the best opportunity to access this support specifically targeted at them.

“In addition to the current requirement to have a minimum of four hectares of Region 3 land per ewe hogg claimed, a further control is required to help prevent overclaiming by those with an excess of ewe hoggs over and above the numbers they required to maintain their breeding flock.

“The union is proposing that the number of eligible ewe hoggs that can be claimed should be no more than 25% of the ewes and gimmers of the regular breeding flock that the ewe hoggs are due to enter. This can be verified through the annual sheep inventory which all sheep keepers are obliged to complete every December.”

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