They join the elite club of Europe’s agricultural ‘subsidy millionaires’ who take the most from the public purse to help run their huge farming businesses. Large landowners and aristocrats across Scotland were also given hundreds of thousands of pound each under the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy.
The massive subsidies to rich farmers have infuriated public spending, environmental and anti-poverty campaigners, who say that poor farmers at home and abroad suffer as a result. But they have been defended by landowning and farming groups as necessary to keep down the cost of food.
Figures for the subsidies given in 2009 have been posted online by the Scottish government, in line with freedom of information legislation. In the last two weeks, most other European countries have also released a huge amount of information about agricultural subsidies.
In Scotland a total of nearly £600 million was paid out to almost 20,000 farmers in 2009 under a series of different subsidy schemes, including the Single Farm Payment Scheme, designed to support cattle, sheep and arable farming. The system dates from after World War 2, when Europe was suffering from a shortage of home-produced food.
Three of Scotland’s subsidy millionaires are farmers from the north east, and the fourth is from the south west (see below). Among the major landowners who also benefited were the Earl and Countess of Moray, who got £749,700 to help run Moray Estates near Forres.
Lord Morton, who owns Dalmahoy Farm near Edinburgh, was given a £448,508 handout, while Charles Pearson, son of the 3rd Viscount Cowdray, was given £347,987 to help run his 53,000-acre Dunecht estate in Aberdeenshire. The Earl of Rosebery gained £344,683 for his estate at South Queensferry.
Other major beneficiaries included the Earl and Countess of Seafield, who own Old Cullen Farm in Aberdeenshire; the Duke of Buccleuch and his family who run BQ farms in the south of Scotland; and Mohamed al-Fayed, who owns Balnagown Estates in Ross-shire and yesterday sold Harrods department store for £1.5 billion.
According to farmsubsidy.org, a group which campaigns across Europe for greater transparency on agricultural payments, there were at least 20% more European subsidy millionaires in 2009 than in 2008. The group’s research has so far identified a total 1,212 , including 268 in Germany and 174 in France.
“Each year we're seeing a further concentration of benefits in the hands of fewer, larger landowners, who seem to use their subsidy cheques to buy up more land and more subsidy entitlements,” said Jack Thurston, the co-founder of farmsubsidy.org.
“Most people think farm subsidies are there to help the small guy but we're seeing it’s quite the reverse. The bigger you are, the better your land, the more public aid you get.”
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in Scotland argued that the Common Agricultural Policy was in urgent need of reform. “What farmers receive now is based on what they did in the past and bears no relationship to current activities,” said the group’s Vicki Swales.
“A small number of large farm businesses in Scotland receive lottery-sized income support payments whilst many others – especially those in the hills and islands - struggle to survive.”
At the other end of the scale from the millionaires, the Scottish government figures show that some farmers received desultory payments. The lowest was a W W Mackinnon who got just £4.19 from the payments office in Oban, while a J D McMiken received £5.49 from the Ayr office.
The anti-poverty group, Oxfam, argued that European agricultural subsidies had destroyed livelihoods in developing countries. “By encouraging overproduction and export dumping, these policies have undermined the development of viable agriculture in poor countries for years,” said the charity’s Robert Bailey.
But the subsidy system was backed by Luke Borwick, the chairman of the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association. “Nobody has anything to hide in claiming these payments,” he said.
“Larger, productive businesses will naturally command a greater slice in terms of subsidy payments. They may have higher income but also higher burdens in terms of costs and compliance.”
Mr Borwick added: “Do not think for one minute that these enterprises are not deserving of support. It is not money for nothing.”
The National Farmers’ Union in Scotland agreed. “Not only has the support provided to farmers preserved the availability of safe, nutritious food at affordable prices,” said a union spokesman, “but it now underpins a whole host of economic, social and environmental benefits being delivered by active farmers, irrespective of the scale of their operation.”
The Scottish government is currently reviewing farm subsidies. “We are assessing what form future subsidy regimes should take to most effectively and fairly support our industry,” said a government spokeswoman.
Scotland’s subsidised farmers
In 2009 a total of £591.7 million was paid out to 19,848 farmers. That includes £507.6m for 19,298 farmers under the Single Farm Payment Scheme, £22.2m for 7,375 farmers under the Scottish Beef Calf Scheme, and £61.9m for 12,022 farmers under the Less Favoured Area Support Scheme.
The four millionaires
1. Frank A Smart & Son was given £1.2 million in subsidies by taxpayers in 2009 for his farm business based at Easter Tolmauds at Torphins in Banchory. The farm is run by 49-year-old Frank Smart, who is said to have inherited a large cattle herd from his father. Mr Smart could not be contacted last week.
2. George Barbour, who runs Auchengibbert Farm near Dumfries, was given £1.06 million by taxpayers in 2009. “I don’t get involved in comments,” he said. “I just work on the business and that’s it.”
3. Ross Bros, including Allan Ross, was given £1.05 million by taxpayers in 2009 for Wardhead farm at Strichen near Fraserburgh in Aberdeenshire. It is one of Scotland’s biggest sheep-farming businesses. Ross Bros could not be contacted last week.
4. Stephen Strathdee’s Glenmore Properties, based at Viewfield Farm at Craigellachie in Aberlour was given £1.04 million in 2009. Along with his family, he runs 39 farms in Moray, Aberdeenshire and the Highlands, as well as a quarry, forestry and other businesses. “I was entitled to the money and it’s within the rules,” he said. “I’ve worked hard for everything I’ve got.”
Twenty other heavily subsidised farms
Farm / area office / subsidy in 2009
William Hamilton & Son / Perth / £892,385
J & T F Macfarlane / Galashiels / £803,166
Moray Estates / Elgin /£749,700
Genoch Mains Farms / Ayr / £737,032
Kevan Forsyth / Ayr / £702,263
J R Graham / Perth / £629,020
J C Innes & Sons / Inverurie / £545,050
John C McIntosh / Inverurie / £541,074
Robert F Forsyth / Ayr / £526,649
Ian White / Perth / £502,139
Dalmahoy Farm / Galashiels / £448,509
Glenapp Estate / Ayr / £403,803
Balnacoil / Golspie / £428,797
Stracathro & Careston Estates / Perth / £385,718
Dunecht Home Farm / Inverurie / £347,987
Rosebery Estates / Galashiels / £344,683
Old Cullen Farms / Inverurie / £341,809
BQ Farming Partnerships / Galashiels / £304,181
BQ Farms / Dumfries / £245,567
Balnagown Castle / Inverness / £145,829
source: Scottish government
Read an earlier story on farm subsidies here.