Farming comment: Let’s not forget: practical skills make the industry thrive
Last Thursday night, I was invited to a dinner celebrating the Scottish Agricultural College’s takeover of the three other land-based colleges in Scotland; thus forming the Scottish Rural University College, or SRUC.
I offer my apologies, as I seem to have gone off message. The move was being presented as a harmonious love-in by all four participants, and duly blessed by Scottish Government education minister Mike Russell.
No-one can yet use the expanded version of the new conjoined body for the simple reason it does not have degree awarding-powers, but that is the gleam in the eyes of those behind the merger.
I have no problem with that as an ambition, as it will give a natural peak to what has become a massive educational establishment. However, I do fear there is a real danger that the conjunction ends up with a lot of concentration at the top end of academic education and less so at the equally important practical skills scale.
While there are plenty of people going around with degrees looking for jobs, it has been predicted there will be a shortage of others with practical husbandry skills – ie, those that are prepared to get their hands dirty and boots muddy.
However, there I was being swamped with platitudes and big educational words to the effect that everything in the world was lovely. I hope for the future of the land-based industries in Scotland that this is the case, as we have now put all our eggs in the one educational basket.
Perhaps my concerns for the SRUC have more to do with a natural preference for local solutions and an antagonism towards centralisation. And perhaps these fears were still on high alert after spending two days in that monument to centralisation: Brussels.
I and another couple of hundred agricultural journalists were there courtesy of the European Commission to be updated on the latest Common Agricultural Policy reform shenanigans. It is the journalistic equivalent of the dreaded “continuing professional development” course.
I had travelled there thinking that the overriding issue was uncertainty, but after seeing and listening to undiluted CAP politics for 48 hours I returned with a few certainties.
The first is that the next CAP will be more complex and complicated than any of its predecessors. I say that with confidence, as every politician stressed it had to be simplified – but only after taking on board his/her own suggestions that will in fact complicate the whole process.
So that is good news for all who find angles in the CAP where they can financially benefit and bad news for all who play the game.
Everyone I spoke to stressed how important it was to get new entrants into the industry. They did not actually say it, but what was implied was “young is good, old is bad”, which is a hard message for a “mature” journalist to take.
So the second certainty is there will be a new entrants’ scheme and this will allow all those farmers who want their sons or daughters to farm to work out how they can get their hands on the cash. Forget that they would likely farm anyway, and equally forget that the best way to get young blood into the industry is to remove the hurdles to entry.
The next certainty about the next CAP is that it will not be decided until the last minute, and even then most of the devil will be in the detail – or, as the EC put it, the technical notes.
All the hopes are being placed on the Irish when they assume the presidency in January 2013, as thereafter it moves to the hands of the Lithuanians and they are not reckoned to have the oomph to drive a major piece of policy through.
It is also important to Germany to get the main bones through in the first half of 2013, as they have their own national elections later next year.
But the Germans, as the main paymasters in the EU, will play a critical role next month in deciding the EU budget – and therefore the CAP budget. They will be under pressure from the UK to reduce the CAP, with sources in the UK civil service revealing their view on budget reduction would prevail over that of the Scottish Government.
But another certainty is that the UK Government will only have the support of a few countries in that, and Scotland and the other devolved nations will benefit from the budgetary views of other member states.
So there you are: a few certainties in a debate that still has a long way to go.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 23 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 10 C
Wind Speed: 24 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 5 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 16 mph
Wind direction: North east