FARMERS have been driven into debt and forced off their lands amid claims that a Scottish Government IT system set up to pass on subsidy payments from the EU has completely failed. 

Families who work the land face an uncertain future amid a struggle to balance the books following the disastrous launch of a new computer programme designed to distribute CAP payments three years ago.

The IT debacle led to massive financial uncertainty within the agricultural industry, which still persists even after ministers were forced to step in and provide loans to cover the 90 per cent of the money farmers should receive.

READ MORE: Farmers left struggling to pay due to payments fiasco

Farmers leaders have described the situation as a “tragedy” which has taken a “personal toll” on many in the industry.

The hardship endured by many in the rural community over the past 36 months has been laid bare by Helen Stewart, the Scottish Review’s Young Thinker of the Year, in an article written for its website.

The 22-year-old, whose family farm sheep in the hills near Pitlochry, said the failure of the system continues to create stress and bad feelings among many farmers, who often had no idea whether their budgets would last the week.

Ms Stewart, who runs her own gin distillery in the farm’s grounds, wrote: “This subsidy is now dangerously out of sync for Scottish farmers. But without it an estimated 90 per cent of farmers would go out of business within a year as it makes up an average 55 per cent of our income. The Scottish Government has driven farmers into the hands of the banks and the depths of debt.”

READ MORE: Farmers left struggling to pay due to payments fiasco

HeraldScotland:

The £178m Business and Change Programme was brought in in 2015 but immediately led to problems. In a review of the project, watchdog Audit Scotland delivered a scathing verdict on whether it was fit for purpose, highlighting “multiple failures”.

The system, which cost £76 million more than originally planned, had already been significantly scaled back in terms of what it was expected to deliver.

Recent figures show that outstanding loans to Scottish farmers rose to more than £2.3bn by the end of May last year, up by £113m to the highest level since records began.

Ms Stewart added: “This isn’t just a problem for now, a temporary ‘glitch’ as the Government attempts to reassure us – it is putting down roots. Already I look around and the farms surrounding me have given up. 

“They may not have walked off but they intend to retire and not pass the farm on to their family. There are no alternatives when we are not even told when the situation might be resolved.

"Every month is a lottery of checking the bank account and phoning around your neighbours as if you’re going mad.” 

The subsidy fiasco arose at the same time as rising costs and falling milk prices hit many farmers.

READ MORE: Farmers left struggling to pay due to payments fiasco

HeraldScotland:

NFU Scotland chief executive Scott Walker said many farmers are struggling with financial hardship.

He said: “Many family farms struggle on each year putting in many more hours for much less reward than would be acceptable to most people in Scotland.

“Farming truly is a way of life and is a passion that few want to give up. We all need food and time and time again we are told that people value where there food comes from.

“Farming in Scotland delivers much more than just high quality food. It helps shape and protect the environment.

"It is the start of the successful Scottish food and drink industry that is the biggest manufacturing sector in Scotland. Unless something is done we are in danger of losing all of this. 

“The personal toll on people is a tragedy.”

Young Scots farmers are already increasingly priced out of the sector, with dire warnings about the consequences unless radical changes are introduced.

Recent research from the Royal Bank of Scotland has revealed young farmers  are facing “serious and unnecessary” challenges that are impacting the entire industry.

The situation is particularly acute in the crofting sector, which is vital to the sustainability of many remote Highland communities.

A lack of affordable housing, land and finance seriously handicapping the future of crofting. Banks will not provide  a mortgage for crofts and there are currently dozens lying unused, particularly in the Western Isles.

READ MORE: Farmers left struggling to pay due to payments fiasco

Scottish shadow rural affairs secretary Peter Chapman added: “The SNP starved Scotland’s rural economy of hundreds of millions of pounds as a result of this IT fiasco.

"It’s no wonder businesses right across the countryside are still feeling the impact. It’s time for the SNP to ditch its Central Belt obsession and help farmers, especially after the neglect  it has shown over the past three years.”

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government accepted there had been problems with the system.

She said: “This is a government absolutely dedicated to supporting the way of life of our rural and farming communities. 

"We have always accepted that the introduction of our new CAP payment system did not go as smoothly we wanted, and made clear our determination to learn lessons from that. 

“Yet our introduction of loan schemes went a long way to alleviating the financial uncertainty facing farmers.”