NFU Scotland has written to the Scottish Government calling on it to act with "urgency and certainty" to plug the critical funding gap faced by farmers and crofters in Scotland’s less-favoured areas.

Under the EU's rules for the Less Favoured Areas Support Scheme (LFASS), payments for the 2019 scheme, which are due in Spring 2020, are to fall to 80% of their LFASS 2018 levels – reducing the LFASS budget of £65 million by some £13 million.

By the LFASS 2020 scheme year, the cut in funding would be 60% of the 2018 levels.

The issue has been raised with Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy, Fergus Ewing, at a recent meeting with NFU Scotland’s Board of Directors. Ewing has also met with the union’s LFA committee twice in 10 months.

The union welcomed the Scottish Government’s parliamentary statement in January to say it intended to “effectively reinstate funding levels to 100% of LFASS”.

In a letter to Ewing, the union has pressed home the need for that to be confirmed as a matter of urgency.

NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick said: “Recognising that we can’t simply top-up LFASS, we are seeking immediate and effective action by Scottish Government to address the LFASS 2019 shortfall of some 20%.

At a time when political noise drowns out practical need, those farming and crofting Scotland’s more disadvantaged land need certainty and support.

“Our Brexit survey, which was launched at the recent Highland Show, clearly shows that confidence levels amongst our farmers and crofters are eroding at an alarming rate. Many have already faced poorer market returns and increased costs to their business related to Brexit uncertainty.

The union’s LFASS survey carried out in 2018 indicated that eight out of 10 hill farmers and crofters would reduce cow and ewe numbers over the next five years if there was no LFA support.

“LFASS 2019 applications closed in May and NFU Scotland members from Shetland to Stranraer are increasingly seeking an absolute commitment from the Scottish Government to effectively make up a very damaging drop in funding in what is proving to be an increasingly turbulent time for Scottish farmers and crofters.

“We are of the clear view that the LFASS 2019 shortfall can and must be made good to prevent the risk of land abandonment and the loss of all the many rural development benefits that hinge on active farming and crofting in disadvantaged areas.

"Effective support is critical to farmers and crofters if they are to continue to deliver all they do for food production, rural economies, local communities, habitats and landscapes.

In addition to the 80% LFASS 2019 payments being made under existing regulations, we urge Scottish Government to separately commit to making de minimis payments to LFASS applicants under the state aid provisions or identify another deliverable solution.

“I repeat the urgency of the situation. It is imperative that Scottish Government acts now."