Fergus Ewing’s focus on ‘key role of food production’

Fergus Ewing aims to see the rural economy 'driven forward'. Picture: John Devlin
Fergus Ewing aims to see the rural economy 'driven forward'. Picture: John Devlin
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Farmers don’t get their due credit for producing food for the nation – and this primary role of the sector should be pulled back to centre stage.

Giving his first address to a farming gathering since his appointment as cabinet secretary for rural economy, Fergus Ewing, MSP for Inverness and Nairn, yesterday told sheep producers at the Scotsheep event at Penicuik that while he had no desire to denigrate the importance of greening and environmental issues, he was keen to refocus on this principal function of farmers.

Stating that he wanted to see assets utilised to best effect and that he wanted to see a maximisation of production and a reduction in the barriers and impediments faced by producers, he said: “My aim in this job will be to see the rural economy driven forward – and I want to see the farming community right at the very heart of this.”

READ MORE: Fergus Ewing ‘sorry’ for farm payments chaos

He also repeated the apology he had given the previous day in his statement to the Scottish Parliament for the hardship and suffering which had been caused by the delays in farm support payments, but added that the “back had now been broken” of the IT problems.

Promising to “get in aboot it” on the support payment front, he said that the situation had moved on considerably in recent weeks and the vast majority of farmers had now received either part-payment or an advance on this.

“While I can’t guarantee 100 per cent that all payments will be out by the end of June deadline, I can guarantee every effort will go into doing so,” he said.

However, while Ewing made it plain that sorting out support payments was his first priority, many of the other areas which will shortly require his attention were also raised at the event.

Event host Ian Cambell warned that one of the biggest threats to the industry was the increasing average age of those involved and the lack of new entrants. He said that proposals in the new land reform act would stop farms being let out – while the creation of a new generation of slipper farmers was taking its toll on the industry.

He was challenged on similar grounds by Midlothian producer Hazel Brown, who also pointed out that the cabinet secretary needed to address the situation which saw “generous grants” given to the forestry sector swallow up productive sheep farms.

Asked when there would be an announcement on the new Scottish upland sheep support scheme – which could pump as much as £6 million into Scotland’s rough grazing areas – Ewing said that both notification and payments would be made to producers “soon”.

He also said that a review into support for the sheep sector, led by sheep farmer,John Scott, was set to be finalised shortly.