60 delegates attended a national seminar titled 'The Future of Hill Farming - in your hands' at the Scottish Association for Marine Science campus at Dunstaffnage near Oban on Thursday 1 October 2015.
The previous day we attended a fascinating visit to Auchtertyre Farm at Tyndrum, run by SRUC where we had a chance to see in action some of the farm's innovative stock handling facilities and hear about a number of other practical improvements to their managment.
Many hill farmers in the west had already expressed their unhappiness with the new CAP settlement giving on 10e per hectare to Region 3 land and 35e to Region 2. NFUS Director of Policy Jonny Hall offered a robust defence of the division of EU support funds and highlighted the advantages of voluntary coupled support schemes for ewe hoggs and cattle together with the retention of LFASS until 2017 as some redress. He pointed out however that the change to Areas of Natural Constraint after 2017 would be a major challenge but should continue to provide support for Scotland's most disadvantaged farm land.
We also heard from Chloe Palmer, a consultant and journalist based in the Peak District who brought her extensive international experience to bear and advised of a number of initiatives including the Burren Farming for Conservation project in Ireland which provoked some interest among delegates.
Arguably the most important intervention was from a young farmer from Devon who is currently farming in Muirkirk with his wife. David Cooper took us on an entrepreneurial journey of his career to date, from a teenager taking on challenge of buying Tardoes Farm and over a number of years using his innate and learned skills to extend his business and his flock of Herdwick and Welsh Mountain sheep, without the cushion of Single Farm Payments. When cross-examined by a tenant farmer in the audience who questioned whether the Muirkirk example could be replicated by the rent paying sector, Mr Cooper responded robustly that his mortgage payments were in excess of most tenant rents and he was still able to conduct a profitable business. He admitted, however that he was looking forward to the new CAP and the opportunity for share of some of the support he has been missing throughout his career in Scotland.
The afternoon workshops provided delegates with the opportunity to debate and decide on a number of key outcomes which might help the sector move forward including a technique applied successfully by Scottish Land & Estates - to establish an assessment of the economic, social and environmental contribution made by hill farming in Scotland.