NFU Scotland has welcomed the Scottish Government’s announcement that support payments to Scottish farmers began on Monday.
This maintains the Scottish Government’s good track record in prompt delivery of the Single Farm Payment (SFP) to eligible farmers.
According to the Scottish Government, around 16,700 producers will see their SFP arrive into bank accounts, worth an estimated £328 million to the rural economy.
That sum reflects a poorer euro exchange rate than recent years, but also a substantial reduction in the CAP budget.
The Scottish Government has estimated that, on average, SFP receipts will be down by around 12%.
This year’s SFP run will be the last under the old CAP scheme, with support moving to a new area-based support scheme for 2015 onwards.
NFU Scotland has sought reassurances from the Scottish Government that prompt delivery of support payments in December next year will still be achieved.
At the annual AgriScot event last week, Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead told attendees at the NFUS seminar that the programme to introduce new delivery systems was on track, and he committed to inform the industry were timetables to slip.
The arrival of SFP in bank accounts also comes with a warning that recipients must be alert to potentially fraudulent activity.
One leading clearing bank has already spoken to NFU Scotland with fears that there may be a spike in criminals targeting farm accounts through telephone banking scams.
NFU Scotland president Nigel Miller said: “Despite a far more favourable year across most of Scotland weather-wise, falling prices across many sectors means that the financial stability of farm businesses across Scotland remains fragile. Prompt delivery of the SFP is very welcome and will be appreciated.
“Getting payments out to 91% of eligible businesses on the first day that payments are permitted by European rules is highly commendable, and we look to the Scottish Government to make every effort to complete its full payment run by the end of December.
“However, this year’s payment comes with a severe health warning as the combination of budgetary cuts and exchange rates means that for many businesses, there will be a stark difference between the size of SFP received last December and this year.
“We move to a brand new era of support in 2015, when the new area-based basic scheme kicks in. That new era brings significant extra complexity in terms of scheme requirements.
“Scottish Government has a track record in delivering support which is exemplary.
“We want that to continue and are well aware of the work going on behind the scenes to ensure the necessary programmes and infrastructure are in place to deliver the new scheme payment run in December 2015.
“Richard Lochhead was questioned at AgriScot last week on whether that timetable was achievable, and his response was that plans remain on track. However, he committed to inform industry were that situation to change.
“This year’s payment run brings a more immediate threat that requires producer vigilance.
“Telephone banking scams targeting farm businesses have been a sad feature of 2014, and a major bank has already spoken to NFUS to raise its concern that there may be a spike in this kind of criminal activity now that the SFP payment run has been made.
“The reminder is that your bank would never ask you over the phone to transfer money to protect your account from fraud.
“If you receive a call of this nature, or any call you are suspicious of, you should end the conversation and call your bank on a trusted number, using a different phone line if possible.”