The problems caused by this year’s cold wet weather will be the focus of discussions crofters have with the vice-president of farming union NFUS this week.
Andrew McCornick is in the isles to hear for himself of the problems caused by the poor summer.
He said the Scottish government was aware of the issues, which had affected the whole of northern Scotland, and discussions regarding financial help for crofters who had struggled with providing fodder and bedding for their animals were taking place.
Next week Mr McCornick will attend a summit of agriculture ministers and industry representatives from across the UK to consider what else can be done to support those sectors most affected by the wet weather.
Meanwhile, crofters met Scottish government crofting minister Aileen McLeod on Monday to discuss crofting regulation, regarded by crofters as being “out of step” with their needs. The meeting was arranged by MSP Tavish Scott, who had previously met the minister at Holyrood and invited her to Shetland to hear the views of local crofters.
Mr Scott has long been pressing the government to ensure crofting regulation recognises the particular crofting needs of Shetland. The meeting included the issue of whole croft decrofting and the crofting registration process with the Registers of Scotland.
This was followed by a discussion concerning the economic future of Shetland crofting, including the approaching market position for lambs, the payment timetable for the Single Application Form (SAF) and the timescale for approved Scottish Rural Development programme applications from Shetland.
Mr Scott said: “Crofting regulations are out of step with the needs of active crofters across Shetland. This reflects a very different pattern of crofting in the Northern Isles compared to other parts of the crofting counties.
“The current one-size-fits-all approach is simply not appropriate, and rules need to be tailored to better fit local circumstances. The challenges Shetland face are not the same as the Western Isles. The opportunities are different too. Yet, no account is taken of this either in the legislation or the way in which the Crofting Commission applies the rules.
“I have had many crofters in touch over not being able to de-croft land or to take forward whole croft decrofting. This often means banks will not lend money against crofting assets. This stops vital investment in local businesses and that is not in anyone’s interest. The crofting minister’s visit can be useful in addressing these issues.”
Dr McLeod was accompanied by the head of the Agricultural Development and Crofting Unit. Local attendees included councillors Drew Ratter and Alastair Cooper, Shetland NFU President Jim Nicolson, chairman of the Shetland Livestock Marketing Group Ronnie Eunson, Scottish Crofting Federation representative Norman Leask and crofting assessor Robert Nicolson.
Mr Ratter later described the meeting as “very positive”, with Dr McLeod saying she felt “better informed” about crofting issues.
Mr Ratter said the main concern was that existing crofting regulation was “stifling development”. He cited the difficulty of borrowing money against crofting land and the long time scale of getting things through the system.
Mr Cooper agreed it had been a “very good” meeting, with Dr McLeod paying representatives the compliment of saying it was the best meeting she had had with crofters.
The council’s economic development department will now prepare a document for the minister outlining the issues raised.
On Tuesday Scottish rural affairs minister Richard Lochhead said £50,000 grant funding has been awarded to the Royal Scottish Agricultural Beneficial Institution, the charity which helps to relieve hardship and poverty among people who depend on working on the land. Mr Lochhead said: “I am aware that the unseasonably wet weather we have been experiencing is having an impact on farmers and crofters across a number of parts of Scotland.
“I have heard reports of sheep farmers suffering losses of animals at lambing due to the cold, wet conditions and cattle are not performing as well as usual. This obviously has implications for production as well as potentially the prices farmers can achieve at market for their stock.
“Early indications also suggest that this year’s silage yields may be badly affected by the weather, meaning further problems could be in store for the winter months ahead.”
He added: “I am acutely aware that some farmers and crofters might be experiencing hardship in the short term. That is why I am announcing [this] donation to RSABI.”