N E W S F E E D S >>>

Caithness News Bulletins May 2004

May 2004 Index April 2004 Index

Caithness.org News Index

Front Page Archives

Farming News      

SNP Attack Finne Over EU Demands To End Livestock Improvement Scheme
"Finnie should back crofters and face down EU state aid rules threat" - GIBSON & MATHER

Highlands and Island SNP MSPs Rob Gibson and Jim Mather are calling for Ross Finnie to protect crofters, instead of trying to intimidate them with the threat of a possible EU clawback of cash for the Crofters Commission bull hire scheme.

Said Rob Gibson...'Deputy Environment Minister Allan Wilson claimed in Wednesday night's debate that 'categorical' legal advice from DEFRA threatens to end the 103 year-old Livestock Improvement Scheme as he claims it break EU state aid rules.

'Last week the London Ministry's advice was used by Scottish Agriculture Minister Ross Finnie in an attempt to frighten crofters into accepting an unacceptable new bull scheme that could threaten the steady
improvement in the quality and the prices of crofter's stock when sold on at mainland marts. It is time Mr Finnie stood up for crofters. Does he not recall that with the grotesque miscalculation in the recent Objective One Fund application by the National Statistics Office in London people that it was the people in the lowest income areas of Scotland who lost out?

Frankly, Mr Finnie's suggestion that the EU would ' take money back off crofters' is outrageous. He should be ashamed of this shabby tactic and of failing to fight our corner. He must quickly withdraw the axe from the LIS.'

Following Jim Mather's speech in the LIS debate he repeated his view that Article 87 of the Treaty of Rome, which lays down the EU State Aid rules, offers a basis to justify a continuation of the Livestock Improvement Scheme.

That clause says ""The following may be considered to be compatible with the common market: (a) aid to promote the economic development of areas where the standard of living is abnormally low or where there is serious underemployment; ....."

Mr. Mather said...'Regrettably, I am sure that I could prove the existence of low incomes and under-employment very easily, when we consider the export of talented youngsters from the Highland & Islands for want of decent jobs. That is surely a basis to face down this threat to reduce quality cattle production in places like Jura, Tiree, Shetland, the Outer Isles and NW Sutherland.

Especially, as that loss would be disastrous for the local economy and environment. And it is contrary to the Ross Finnie's own Forward Strategy for Agriculture and the CAP Mid Term Review proposals: measures, which seek to retain and promote cattle production and to maintain environmentally friendly mixed farming and crofting.

Surely the difficulties faced by cattle producers in remote areas would not make them obvious targets for EU officials? And surely they deserve support when the UK and other big state break EU rules every week in life? Therefore the review promised by Allan Wilson in last night's debate must be conducted in a way that defends or improves the current scheme and robustly protects the interests of current users from any EU challenge."

What Is The Livestock Improvement Scheme?
At 107 years old the north’s oldest stock improvement programme proves that raising livestock quality is more than just a modern idea. The Crofters Commission Livestock Improvement Schemes stem from far-sighted legislation from 1897 and currently provide producer groups throughout the Highlands and Islands with 162 bulls and more than 240 rams this year. By maintaining cattle numbers and promoting ever rising quality the schemes aim to help producers maximise their returns.

Marginal, acidic land, poor weather and unforgiving terrain limit agricultural production to grazing stock. Despite these drawbacks more than 60 per cent of Scotland’s store stock originate in the Highlands & Islands. The schemes help producers maintain that position and through improvement win new business from the rest of the UK.

Crofters often work full time in other jobs not associated with agriculture and this prevents many from attending sales to buy rams or bulls. By ensuring producers have access to quality sires at an affordable price the schemes help retain cow numbers and promote quality sheep and cattle production.

The Ram Purchase Scheme subsidises the sale of commercial Blackface and Cheviot rams to townships or groups. Shearling rams and a limited number of two-shear Hill type North Country Cheviot rams are available. The Commission purchases Perth, Lanark and Newton Stewart type Blackface and Hill or Park Type North Country Cheviot or South Country Cheviot rams from the main breed sales throughout Scotland. Township Clerks and eligible groups must apply by mid September. The Commission deals with bids on a ‘first come first served’ basis.

The Bull Supply Scheme aims to maintain cow numbers in the crofting areas and to improve crofters’ returns by raising the quality of stock. Township Clerks or eligible groups can apply to hire bulls for two year periods. The Commission buys bulls, at the pedigree sales, selecting them for their suitability for the range conditions found in crofting areas. Most return to the Commission Stud Farms for wintering but some remain with the township or group for 24 months.