31 July 2006

Minister Will Face Local Farmers Over Funding Support

by Joe Watson, Press & Journal

Scottish Farming Minister Ross Finnie will make an appearance at Turriff Show today.

He will spend almost five hours at the show before going to see local farmers John and Andrew Rennie at Gask, near Turriff.

The father and son have in recent months started generating electricity from pig slurry and abattoir waste.

Their £1.5million project attracted just £25,000 in support from the Scottish Executive's farm business diversification scheme. The level of funding has been criticised by the Rennies, who have seen other renewable energy projects receive massive Government support.

Mr Finnie will spend his time at the show touring the stock lines, presenting prizes and taking in the national Border Leicester sheep show, being held at Turriff for the first time.

He too will visit the Turriff and district business marquee on the showfield and meet Jim Williamson, another local farmer who has diversified into garden machinery, a children's play area and restaurant.

Meanwhile, Stewart Stevenson, the Banff and Buchan MSP, has welcomed an apparent change of heart from Mr Finnie on possible support for new entrants wanting to get a foothold in farming.

The minister had told Mr Stevenson in a letter in March that he was not minded to support such a scheme at that time. New correspondence from the minister, however, indicates that he is now considering whether a bespoke scheme for young entrants would be suitable.

This change stems from the Scottish Executive's recent rural development plan consultation.

Mr Stevenson said: "We all agree that the age profile of those involved in farming is too high and that action is needed to support our young farmers.

"We know that a similar scheme introduced last year in Northern Ireland has been warmly welcomed there and is making a significant contribution to the agricultural industry there.

"I strongly suspect that the minister has been swayed by the weight of argument put forward for lending support to new entrants in the recent consultation on the rural development programme and I very much welcome Mr Finnie's move to open-mindedness on this issue.

"Let us be clear that such a scheme in itself will not transform Scotland's farming industry overnight, but it is one of the very necessary steps needed to build a sustainable agriculture sector for the future."

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