More than 1,100 Scottish upland sheep farmers are expected to benefit from payments worth around £7 million in the coming weeks.

The Scottish Upland Sheep Support Scheme supports sheep production on the lowest quality land.

Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said: “Maintaining flocks of sheep on some of our poorest land brings important social and environmental benefits to those areas, which is why I can confirm that the first tranche of 2018 Scottish Upland Sheep Support Scheme payments is due to begin shortly.

With payments set at £68 an animal, farmers and crofters will see a welcome increase of just over £5 from the 2017 rate.

"As the only part of the UK to provide coupled support for sheep and beef farmers, these timely payments will give a boost to the rural economy while helping to support our farmers who are producing the quality meat products that Scotland is globally renowned for.

“With further payments to be made in the coming weeks, I am confident that the majority of awards will be made by the end of the payment window, demonstrating my absolute commitment to supporting our farmers, crofters and the wider rural economy.”

The scheme

To be eligible for the scheme, producers must have homebred ewe hoggs, no more than 200ha of Payment Region 1 land and 80% of their holding must consist of land in Payment Region 3.

The payment rate for the Scottish Upland Sheep Support Scheme fluctuates each year based on the eligible animals applied for under the scheme.

Robert MacDonald, NFU Scotland LFA Committee chairman and a hill farmer from Grantown on Spey, said: “The announcement that the SUSSS payment for eligible ewe hoggs will be hitting the bank accounts of hill farmers and crofters over the next few weeks is welcome news for the 1,118 who are due this important payment.

“While the weather has been kind in many parts of Scotland this lambing time, the costs associated with hill farming and crofting continue to climb so this additional cash flow will contribute to the viability of these vulnerable hill farming or crofting business.

NFU Scotland has consistently pushed for SUSSS payments to be paid in a timely manner, and the fact that we are going to see payments start significantly earlier than they did last year is a positive for the union and our members.

“It is noteworthy that the payment rate has increased to £68 a hogg, a reflection of a decrease in the number of eligible ewe hoggs and how hard severe weather events like ‘Beast from the East’ hit our hill sector.

“A more significant funding issue for our hill farming and crofting sectors is potential cuts to the Less Favoured Areas Support Scheme (LFASS) in 2019 and 2020.

“There remains a challenge ahead to secure the funding to make good the LFASS shortfall. And the intention of the Scottish Government, following intensive lobbying by the union, is that support equivalent to the current £65 million LFASS budget will be secured.

"I was delighted to have the opportunity to raise this in person with Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing yesterday when he attended NFU Scotland’s Board of Directors meeting in Edinburgh."