Farmers’ union aims to boost sheep scheme’s efficiency

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) Scotland has demanded that changes be made to a financial support scheme for sheep farmers. 

The £6 million Scottish Upland Sheep Support Scheme (SUSS) has been designed to offer payments to active hill farmers based on the number of ewe hoggs kept as breeding replacements for flocks. However, according to NFU Scotland, the scheme causes difficulties for those that are most heavily reliant on the payments.

To make the initiative more efficient, the union has outlined a series of budget-friendly changes that will not undermine important requirements such as eligibility, inspection and validation.

The first proposal from NFU Scotland is to increase the window in which farmers and crofters can apply to receive funding. As of now, the application period runs from 1 September to 16 October. However, the Union argued that this ought to be increased from 1 September to 30 November, with the start of the retention period from 1 December to 31 March.

Secondly, it has been suggested that the number of eligible ewe hoggs that can be claimed on should be no more than a quarter of the ewes of the regular breeding flock of the claimant. This would help improve the effectiveness of ewe hogg payments targeted at those that are most heavily dependent on the scheme.

“As a union, we are resolutely focused on making effective changes to SUSS so that this essential support is targeted correctly,” explained NFU Scotland’s president Andrew McCornick.

“We are not seeking to amend the budget or payment rate componenets of the scheme, but we are seeking to make it more closely aligned to the interests of those businesses it is clearly intended to support.”

He said the current application period was too short for some hill farmers, as not all were able to access hill ground until the end of the application period due to lease obligations, while some could not gather all the necessary information within the timeframe.

“I believe that these changes to application and retention periods would not compromise the required inspection regime, but would give those applicants dependent on the scheme the best opportuntiy to access this support specifically targeted at them,” continued McCornick.

“To improve the effectiveness of ewe hogg payments being targeted at those most reliant on these payments, NFU Scotland is also adamant that an effective control is required to help prevent those with an excess of ewe hoggs over and above the number required to maintain their breeding flock from taking advantage - which is one of the stated intentions of this coupled support scheme.”

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