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Union Shows Farming at Heart of Scottish Hills and Uplands
2009-04-17

NFU Scotland’s members on the Isle of Mull have shown Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Richard Lochhead, the clear benefits that are delivered by maintaining farming activity in Scotland’s remote hills and uplands.

Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Richard Lochhead

Richard Lochhead

Mr Lochhead was invited to Mull by Regional Board Chairman Bert Leitch and LFA Committee member Lachlan MacLean following his visit to the Union’s LFA Committee meeting in December 2008. The Mull branch hosted a dinner for the Cabinet Secretary, featuring local produce, on Wednesday evening (15 April) before visiting Mr Leitch, Mr MacLean and their families on farm today (16 April).

Following the Cabinet Secretary’s visit to his farm, Mr Leitch said:
“Farmers on the island of Mull can ably demonstrate the huge benefits that livestock farming delivers to the local economy, the local communities and the local landscape while also highlighting the impact that falling livestock numbers and land abandonment can have on a rural area.

“Mull has lost one tenth of its breeding flock in recent times and there are now large areas of the island no longer being grazed. When you start to lose the stock, you start to lose the farmers, the shepherds and their families and that kind of thing hits an island community hard. As an island, we are also very reliant on our tourist trade but our beautiful scenery is also at risk if abandoned land is allowed to run to scrub and bracken rather than being grazed and managed.

“Farmers in these areas need better encouragement through the Scotland Rural Development Programme (SRDP) to continue keeping their stock and delivering all the wider benefits to a place like Mull. To have the greatest impact, that support must be available to as many farmers as possible in an easily accessible, un-complicated way. The Less Favoured Area Support Scheme (LFASS) is a good example of a scheme that does deliver for our farmers. It is crucial that the Cabinet Secretary ensures that the discussions on the LFASS – both at home and in Europe - does not affect the delivery of the lifeline payments farmers are currently receiving.

“We also believe that the Land Managers Options (LMO) part of the SRDP could deliver so much more for Scottish farming. This is a scheme which farmers can get involved in without it involving a lot of bureaucracy, computers or consultants. The Union has asked the Cabinet Secretary to look at extending measures available for funding under LMOs to include things like support for hill sheep grazing management, away-wintering of stock, bracken control and capital expenditure in drainage, fencing and handling facilities. These are the kind of things that would make a real difference to hill farmers and also deliver the wider benefits that justify money from the public purse.”

Notes:

  • There are approximately 100 registered farms and crofts on Mull. Most of the farms and crofts have sheep and just over half have beef cattle as well. There is 1 dairy farm on the island. There are approximately 33,000 breeding sheep and 1700 breeding cattle on the island. There has been a 25% drop in sheep numbers since 2000 and 15% less people keep cattle in the same period. These trends are widely thought to be accelerating with more than 3000 ewes leaving the island last year alone. Tens of thousands of acres are now abandoned on Mull with no agricultural activity at all. The island is a mixture of owner occupier and tenant farms. There are several very large estates, which are mainly owned for their sporting and recreational uses. The island is largely a very harsh place to farm with poor quality soils and very wet climate. Annual rainfall can be in excess of 2 metres. There is very little snow, apart from on the high tops, due to the mild Gulf Stream. Winter feeding of livestock usually starts in November and carries on until June making winters very long and expensive. The cost of haulage onto and off the island is a major disadvantage, amounting to additional costs of £40 per ton bulk concentrate feeding, £55 per ton of hay and £65 per ton of Straw for the ferry costs alone.
  • The last 30 years have seen steady decline in agriculture on the island, which has noticeably accelerated in the last 10 years. To try to break this cycle of falling returns the Mull farmers have recently set up 2 initiatives. Firstly, they are setting up a Cattle Hi Health group to co-ordinate accreditation that the island is free of the cattle disease Bovine Viral Diarrhoea (BVD). There are no signs of BVD in the herds and this initiative may improve demand for breeding and store cattle. Secondly, along with the Argyll and Bute Agricultural Forum, the Mull farmers are participating in a Hill Lamb wintering scheme, putting second draw hill lambs away to the lowlands for the winter and marketing these as fat lambs in the spring. This initiative has potential to add real value to the farmers involved.
  • Bert Leitch is Chairman of NFU Scotland Argyll and Islands Regional Board. Since 1972, he has been the tenant farmer at Lagganulva, which extends to approx. 2000 acres of which 20 are in-bye. Bert owns the neighbouring unit of Oskamull, which extends to 1000 acres, of which only 12 acres are in-bye. The farm runs 700 Black face ewes and 80 crosses. They run a fold of 30 Highland cows plus 28 breeding heifers, all of which are bred pure. Bert maintains his passion for Limousin cattle with 3 pedigree females. Bert is a sole trader but hopes to bring daughter Helen into the tenancy. The farm is run along with Helen and son in law Ian Mackay with occasional contractors brought in and some neighbouring for gathering. Ian MacKay runs the neighbouring Torloisk Estate farm, which extends to 6000 acres. This is on a Short Limited Duration Tenancy. The farm carries approx. 1200 mostly Blackface ewes with some Hebridean sheep. The farm has a fold of 40 Highland cows all bred pure.
  • Donald and Lachlan MacLean are the third generation of tenant farmers on Knock since 1947. Lachlan is the Vice-Chairman of NFU Scotland LFA committee. Knock farm extends to 10,000 acres. Gortain, Duart, Sandbank and Derryguaig farms and Inchkenneth Island, which are also rented, extend to another 2,000 acres. These are run separately from the Knock farm business. The Macleans own approx. 80 acres of field ground at Gruline, next door to Knock. The brothers run an extensive flock of 1750 Scottish Blackface ewes from Sea level to 3200 feet on Knock plus another 700 ewes on the other rented farms on the island. They have a herd of approx. 100 Luing and Luing cross cows, all out wintered and fed on home-grown silage and bought in feeding. There are 2 working partners plus general worker Norman MacPhail who has been full time for the past 13 years. The Macleans hire in additional labour for gathering and shearing. They make approx. 1700 silage bales for winter feeding of cattle. Lachlan’s son Jamie (18) is at University studying Ecological Science but is very keen on the farm and works at home during the holidays. Lachlan’s wife Nancy teaches at the local primary school.

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