Survey highlights crofters’ Covid-19 concerns, while new advice is issued for shearing season

Cash-flow, access to supplies and veterinary care have all been cited as significant problems facing crofting during the Coronavirus crisis.

The Scottish Crofting Federation has been surveying its members to identify the main concerns.

The drop in tourist trade is a major blow, as many crofters supply food to local businesses and have accommodation available to let.

SCF Chair Yvonne White said over a third of the survey respondents said cashflow was now a major worry.

She said: “Abattoirs have not been taking private kills, hotels and restaurants are closed and on-croft accommodation bookings are cancelled. This would normally be the time of year to start seeing money coming back in after the long winter, but it is not materialising.”

One respondent said, “The closure of some abattoirs to private kills is a death knell to us small producers. If abattoirs stay open, they cannot exclude private kills as cumulatively the resulting produce will be a substantial contribution to food supplies in rural areas.”

Another, who supplied hotels and restaurants, said, “I am giving away all egg production free as there is such a reduced market for the eggs here; 250 hens, the alternative is to throw them away when they go out of date.”

Asked what would help, they said financial support is lacking, is confusing, or crofts fall between the cracks.

For example, the loss of holiday-let income is a devastating interruption to cash-flow but as this is not the main occupation there is no help.

Additionally, the shortage of help on the croft from contractors, volunteers, students and family was cited by well over a third of respondents.

As one crofter put it, “It is difficult to get contractors and materials to complete work. Urgent fencing work can’t be done.”

It is apparent that contractors are heeding the government directive – ‘stay at home’ – despite food production being part of critical national infrastructure.

Many respondents said they feel the government advice is not clear enough – that many people could be carrying on with croft work without posing any threat but feel they cannot due to the message going out that any movement is restricted.

“The survey is still live” said Ms White, “and is open to all crofters, whether SCF members or not. We need the information to feed into Scottish Government policy as we attempt to keep up Scottish food production in this very difficult time.

“It is obvious that crofters are suffering financial hardship due to the situation; as a gesture SCF will not be applying the annual inflationary subscription increase next week, but crofters still need concessions and targeted help from government if we are to survive this.”

Meanwhile, a new shearing checklist has been produced to ensure that shearers, wool handlers and farmers in the UK work in partnership to keep everyone operating at safe distances, with practical measures being put in place to allow shearing to continue whilst protecting everyone’s safety.

Industry organisations are encouraging farmers and crofters to get in touch with their usual contractor to organise their shearing but to be prepared that the season may be longer than in a ‘normal’ year.

The new checklist includes guidance on separation, hand washing and vehicle and equipment sharing.

Full details are available on the National Association of Agricultural Contractors website