Bid to save hill farmers

NFU Scotland has launched a desperate bid to halt the exodus of cattle and sheep farmers from Scotland's hills and uplands.

After reports from members across the country, who are either selling up their stock or planning to in the face of spiralling feed, fuel and fertiliser costs, the Union decided to take action with a Manifesto for the Hills - a three-part package of policy options, which focuses on better use of existing public funds.

The manifesto stresses that the industry must help itself by focusing on continued improvements in marketing, collaboration, genetics and technical efficiencies. It states that improved relationships in the supply chain are critical.

However, it also points out that industry co-operation alone will not address the financial crisis and insists that there is an urgent requirement for new policies from the Scottish government.

Speaking at the launch of the Manifesto for the Hills, at a farm at Breakachy, Laggan, NFUS president Jim McLaren said: "We are currently witnessing an exodus of livestock and people from our hills and uplands, unlike anything I have seen in my lifetime.

"We can either let this happen and consider it the unfortunate consequence of market forces or we can recognise the huge social, environmental and economic benefits delivered by agricultural activity in our more fragile areas and intervene. In our view, there is no question that intervention is necessary.

"Clearly any industry in trouble must look at how it can help itself. However, we need policy tools to secure the future of these businesses and communities. Our manifesto is not a call for new public funds; it focuses on better use of existing funds. Ultimately, we want a shift of funding away from competitive schemes which support the few, to non-competitive schemes, which target money at those who are clearly actively producing and delivering social, environmental and economic benefits."

A recent Scottish Agricultural College study reported a 23% drop in sheep numbers in the last 10 years and an 11.7% reduction in the beef breeding herd over the same period. The NFUS believes that these figures mark huge regional variations and that, in some parts of north and west Scotland, reductions in sheep numbers have been between 35-40%.