With debate on Britain’s future in Europe now beginning to gather momentum, Scottish farm minister Richard Lochhead yesterday gave a clear pointer on his thoughts on the issue following the release of national farm income figures.
Speaking out after these had shown a heavy reliance on support from the common agricultural policy (CAP), Lochhead said that staying in the EU was “absolutely crucial” for the future of Scottish farming.
He said that while extreme weather and difficult global trading conditions had accounted for the continued decline in farm incomes over the period, the figures brought into sharp focus the importance of EU funding to Scottish agriculture.
“The CAP is expected to inject more than €4.5 billion (£3.4bn) into the Scottish economy over this CAP period, and Scottish dairy producers benefited from EU emergency aid last year,” he said.
“Europe is also our number one destination for international food and drink exports, with more than two-thirds of the food produced here going to the continent. Continued EU membership is therefore absolutely crucial for the future of Scottish farming.
“Scotland needs a fairer share of funding from a simpler and more streamlined CAP with food production at its core. But this must be addressed from within the EU, as it is clearly in the best interests of Scottish farming to stay in Europe.”
Meanwhile the SNP’s rural affairs spokesman in the House of Commons, Calum Kerr MP, slammed the attitude of farming ministers in Westminster who were failing to face up to the realities of the referendum.
He said that it was ridiculous that no behind-the-scenes work had been carried out by Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary Liz Truss or her department (Defra) towards weighing up the alternatives.
The MP for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk said that the only sign given by the UK government on the issue was an indication that Defra and the Treasury would devise some form of support system only after a Brexit vote was returned.
“And quite frankly, this should set alarm bells ringing across the country,” said Kerr, “especially when you consider how Scotland’s farmers were treated over the convergence uplift issue.”
He said that when this degree of complacency was taken together with the UK government’s reputation for wanting to cut spending on farm support, the dangers for Scotland’s agricultural sector should a Brexit vote be returned were clear.