The responses from a survey put out to crofters by the Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) reveal access to cash-flow, labour, contractors, supplies and veterinary care as the main problems faced due to Covid-19.
“We have had a very good response to our survey“, said Yvonne White, chair of the crofters’ representative body. “The statistics are stark with over a third of the respondents citing cash-flow as a major worry. Many crofters supply food and accommodation to the local market. 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free as there is such a reduced market for the eggs here; 250 hens, the alternative is to throw them away when they go out of date.”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. “There needs to be a greater understanding by the government of the variety of crofting enterprises, as well as seasonality - we need to make enough money during the summer to last through the winter.”
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 our critical national infrastructure. Many respondents said they feel the government advice is not clear enough – 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.”