Farming: Scottish farm policy suffering information gap

The lack of obvious progress and a dearth of information on the shape of future agricultural policy are depriving Scotland’s farmers of the opportunity to carry out any meaningful forward planning.

SLE chair, Mark Tennnant
SLE chair, Mark Tennnant

That is the claim made in an updated strategy plan set to be launched by Scottish Land and Estates at the Royal Highland Show today.

Calling for a rethink on the Agriculture Reform Implementation Oversight Board (ARIOB), SLE states that it is not moving fast enough – and its membership fails to reflect a broad enough range of industry views.

“We acknowledge that progress has been made, however a great deal of uncertainty remains,” said SLE chair, Mark Tennnant, speaking ahead of today’s launch. “This uncertainty is making decision-making, investment and long-term planning incredibly difficult for Scotland’s land managers and rural businesses”.

He said that while the current membership of the group had been appropriate for addressing the particular issue of livestock emissions, a wider-ranging suite of interests should be included to develop future strategy.

And SLE policy advisor, Paul Richardson added that while there had been some progress on land use policy and subsidy support in recent years, the pace of change was not quick enough and there remained a ‘vacuum of information’ – particularly, he said, from ARIOB.

“That has created a great deal of uncertainty for the industry, with opportunities to implement change during these crucial years lost,” said Richardson who led the update to the organisation’s #Route2050 ‘On Track for Rural Scotland’ strategy which will be released later today.

The rural business organisation’s publication will focus on immediate asks during the transition period to 2025 along with an outline of what rural support could look like beyond 2025.

Tennant said it was critical that future policy addressed as equal the three key elements of food production, climate change and biodiversity in designing Scotland’s future subsidy support regime, which he said should ensure that the rural economy could continue to thrive.

During the transition period before the implementation of Scotland’s yet-to-be-revealed Agriculture Bill is introduced, SLE also asks for Government to rule on a standardisation of carbon audit metrics along with the speedy introduction of a biodiversity assessment tool.

The strategy also calls for a reform of how the Rural Payments and Inspections Division engages with farmers and land managers – claiming it should move from an inspection and enforcement role to an advisory one.

The organisation also proposes that 50 per cent of future farming subsidies should be ‘unconditional’ in order to maintain food security and thriving production in Scotland – and that it should be based on something akin to the Macaulay land classification scale with an inbuilt active farming requirement.

“We need to ensure we preserve a critical mass in Scottish farming and maintain food production and that is why 50 per cent of support should be unconditional for active farmers to act as a stability payment,” said Tennant.

Over and above this, he said that conditional payments, including capital grant scheme funding, should build on the work of the farmer-led groups and be used to achieve policy objectives which addressed the major issues.

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