Farming: Scots union gets backing for farm policy reform

NFU Scotland is being given a mandate from members around the country to press ahead with its proposals for policy reform based on Actively Farmed Hectares (AFH).

President Martin Kennedy
President Martin Kennedy

With the majority of a countrywide tour of regional areas now complete, NFUS president Martin Kennedy said that while there was still a long way to go to get the plans adopted at national level by the Scottish Government, it was important to have something which had the backing of producers around the country to put on the table.

“Judging by the attendance at the meetings there is tremendous interest out there and a real desire to know the way forward.

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“And so far we have been getting the backing of farmers in all areas we have visited” said Kennedy.

Based on the few confirmed details of ScotGov’s own plans so far, he said that the administration appeared to be working along similar lines to the union’s ‘Steps to change’ document first drawn up in 2018.

This involved a base payment to provide stability to the sector, a further portion which had green strings attached and was conditional upon the delivery of environmental and climate change benefits, and a third tier which involved schemes to address specific environmental objectives.

But while other details of the official scheme were still to be settled, Kennedy said that the timetable was becoming increasingly tight.

“There is to be a national consultation on the proposed new framework launched in August this year while the new agriculture bill is set to go through the Scottish parliament during 2023, with secondary legislation to be sorted out in 2024 and the new scheme up and running by 2025.

“And with little time left, being able put something to concrete on the table which has the industry’s backing on is extremely important as no one else has come up with anything.”

However, while Kennedy and union policy director, Jonnie Hall outlined examples of how their proposals, which revolved a flat rate payment of £200 per hectare, which had to be triggered by and could be modulated by real agricultural activity, would work for different sectors, they stressed neither the payment rate nor the overall support budgets were known or secure.

“With the bulk of the finance coming from the UK Treasury, not only do we have to convince the Scottish Government that our system is sound, but we have to convince the UK Government that the budget needs to be maintained beyond the end of this parliament.”

Citing the ‘train wreck’ which farm policy reform was proving south of the Border where all money was being withdrawn from production-related activities, he said this had been a key focus of the union’s work recently.

But he was unapologetic about calling for continued production support, with the majority of farm businesses struggling to break even without support.

“And although just over £600 million comes into the industry from support, this actually represents only around half of one per cent of Scotland’s total public spending bill of £99 billion.”

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