Farming bank debt hits ‘record’ £2.2bn

Total outstanding bank loans to the agricultural sector in Scotland amounted to £2.2 billion at the end of May — the highest since records began in 1972 — according to the latest national statistics from Scotland’s chief statistician.

A survey of the main banks and other lending institutions showed outstanding loans to Scottish farms rose by £177 million in the year to May 31, 2016.

This was the seventh consecutive annual increase in Scottish farm bank debt.

“After remaining steady for a decade during the 2000s, debt levels have now risen to their highest since records began in 1972,” said the Scottish Government.

On top of bank loans, the statistics showed farms have an estimated £1.4 billion of liabilities related to hire purchase, family loans and other sources.

The Scottish data reflected the overall UK picture.

Figures from the Bank of England showed that by May 2016 the UK “agricultural, hunting and forestry” sector had outstanding debt of £17.7 billion, having seen a 51% increase in debt since 2010.

Scottish Conservative shadow rural affairs secretary Peter Chapman said: “There’s no question that farmers the length and breadth of Scotland have been let down badly by the SNP.

“The rural economy was starved of hundreds of millions of pounds thanks to its mismanagement of vital CAP payments.

“Now we are seeing record debt levels, and it paints a very grim picture for the agricultural sector.

“There are many challenges across farming, not least volatile commodity prices.

“But when farmers needed the Scottish Government most, the SNP ministers failed them.”