Lochhead calls for national discussion on farming

Ensuring that the high-flying success of Scotland’s food and drink sector filters its way down to farmers on the ground is one of the main aims of a new vision document, The Future for Scottish Agriculture, launched by the Scottish Government at the Highland show yesterday.

The Royal Highland Show 2015. Picture: Picture: Lisa Ferguson
The Royal Highland Show 2015. Picture: Picture: Lisa Ferguson

Despite its low-key launch, the document is aimed at starting a national discussion on where Scottish agriculture should be going over the next ten years – with the aim of securing a “productive, innovative and profitable future” for Scottish farming.

Speaking at the release of the document, cabinet secretary Richard Lochhead said: “Scottish agriculture is at a turning point – and while it has been necessary to concentrate on day-to-day issues during the implementation of the [European Union’s] new common agricultural policy, now is the time to lift our eyes a bit and look to the future.”

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He said that the document would be available to all farmers and organisations and should act as a prompt to looking at the bigger issues on all fronts including food production, environmental considerations and carbon sequestration.

“We are looking for game changing ideas here which will take Scottish farming, food and drink on its next step,” he added.

He said that taking decisions on whether the industry should go all out for exports or aim for the home market would influence the wider Scottish Government strategy.

“The purpose of this document is to begin a conversation on these issues – not just at industry meetings and the like, but around kitchen tables and over the farm gate – and I look forward to hearing what people have to say over the coming weeks and months,” he said.

NFU Scotland welcomed the move, stating that it would take the discussion to its members – however the union stressed that, once a “vision” was agreed, it should drive government policy. Union president Allan Bowie said that NFU Scotland’s board of directors had already given thought to the matter and, in the autumn, the union will sound out its membership to gather their views.

“When the day-to-day job of farming remains so challenging, it can be difficult to look further ahead than next week, next month or next year – but that is exactly what we want our members to do,” said Bowie.

“As a start point to that discussion, if our successful food and drink sector is to continue to thrive, then it will require farmers to produce more from the land in Scotland.

“That needs a vision built on production and ensuring that we get the best price possible for what we produce. We want farmers to be innovative and we want to attract the best and brightest of the next generation to farming. Our ambitions must be set high and the Scottish Government needs to follow through with the correct actions and policies that will allow the vision to be fulfilled.”

He added that it was important that the resulting vision did more than gather dust on a shelf. “Creating the ‘vision’ is the easy bit,” he said. “The hard bit is in delivery and putting in place the required steps and actions to put Scottish farming firmly on the front foot.”