Climate scheme for farmers welcomed - but detail still awaited

The clear marker put down yesterday underlining the Scottish Government’s long-term commitment to agri-environment schemes was widely welcomed – but farmers have said they await details on how they would be developed and funded in the future.

Rural Affairs Cabinet Secretary, Mairi Gougeon.
Rural Affairs Cabinet Secretary, Mairi Gougeon.

Announcing that the Agri-Environment Climate Scheme (AECS) would reopen for funding in 2022, rural affairs cabinet secretary Mairi Gougeon yesterday said that farmers, crofters and land managers would be able to apply for support for a number of measures aimed at promoting low carbon farming and protecting the environment.

She revealed that Scottish Ministers had also agreed to deliver future rounds of the fund up to and including 2024,which is designed to help increase biodiversity, improve soils and contribute to mitigating climate change at the same time as providing high quality, locally produced food.

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Stating that it would also underwrite the wider campaign to prioritise local and organic produce in public sector menus as part of Scotland’s green recovery, Mairi Gougeon added that the administration wanted Scotland to be a global leader in sustainable and regenerative agriculture by helping the sector support and deliver nature restoration.

While no details were revealed on funding, which is part of the Scottish Rural Development Programme, in the past it has had an annual budget of around £40 million a year, jointly funded by the Scottish administration and the EU to support 3,000 projects.

However, Gougeon said that with £213 million spent over the life of the scheme, the Scottish Government remained committed to the investment.

Welcoming the move, NFU Scotland vice president Andrew Connon said the union would seek further clarity on the Cabinet Secretary’s statement, especially on how it would affect those with existing agreements that were about to expire.

“However, the clear commitment to deliver a full Agri-Environment Climate Scheme (AECS) round in 2022, and to extending the scheme right up to the end of the period of stability in 2024 will give confidence to Scottish farmers and crofters as they continue to tackle biodiversity and climate change whilst producing high quality, sustainable food,” said Connon.

He said that a fully-funded AECS was vital to support the efforts of Scottish farmers and crofters to deliver essential environmental benefits including peatland management, conserving and enhancing vulnerable species, and providing habitats for pollinators on farm.

“We urged the Scottish Government in June to make decisions on the scheme’s future as a priority and today’s announcement puts down a clear marker on future agri-environment support,” he added.

The Scottish Government has also announced a Private Storage Aid Scheme which is designed to help manage the backlog of pigs on farms.

“This will reduce product wastage at a particularly challenging time for the industry. Work is moving quickly on this and it is hoped to be in place early November,” said Mairi Gougeon.

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