CABINET secretary for rural affairs Richard Lochhead said this week that a re-elected SNP government would continue to push for lower fuel bills in rural areas and back direct payments for farmers.
He was speaking during a visit on Tuesday to Galahaugh Fish Farm on the Torwoodlee estate with Christine Grahame, the former MSP who is contesting the Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale constituency in May’s elections.
He said: “There is a lot at stake: the CAP delivers millions of pounds to the region. We have put forward the case for Scotland’s needs to be met by the new CAP. I don’t think anyone wants to see the hills and countryside of the Borders abandoned.”
He said the SNP would continue to push the UK government to cut high fuel prices and press it and the European Union on the need for direct subsidies to farmers through the CAP.
“We have had a very good working relationship with the agricultural industry and we have made sure Scotland’s position is put forward,” said Mr Lochhead. “The feedback we are getting from the Borders is that the SNP government has given local farmers a strong voice and brought a new focus to the rural economy.”
The party’s commitment to freeze council tax for five years would also help farmers and small businesses in the region, he said.
Estate owner James Pringle told the cabinet secretary that small trout farms are in a similar situation to milk producers.
“We are struggling to get the cost of production down at the moment. We are in a high risk, no gain business model and it’s not sustainable.”
Costs, in particular of fish oil used in fish feed, have risen but the prices being paid for the rainbow trout Mr Pringle’s small farm produces have not.
The Galashiels operation, which started in 1977 and produces 280 tonnes a year, lost 60 tonnes of fish in the winter when the water supply froze and the fish suffocated.
“A lot of them were harvest-ready fish, so all the cost was in them, they were just waiting to go. But also there were some which would have been ready in June and July, so there will be a knock-on effect with cash flow,” said Mr Pringle.
The SNP manifesto says it will introduce superfast broadband internet access to rural areas, get fairer prices for farmers, have an agri-renewables strategy and take forward the rural development programme to help country businesses. It says it will amend the Agricultural Holdings Act to support tenant farmers and, where farms are handed down to the next generation, make it easier for the successor to build a home on the farm.
It says: “We want to see a greater return for Scottish farmers for the food they produce and new opportunities to develop new products.”
Ms Grahame said she understood the issues facing Borders farmers are increasing costs and food prices, adding: “It’s looking at how they can most take advantage of Europe.”
Mr Lochhead described the list MSP as feisty and a great champion for the Borders.