Roadmap offers potential direction of travel for farming policy

An industry-led roadmap to put the spade work of the Farmer Led Groups (FLGs) into effect offers the Scottish Government a unique solution to the current hiatus in the development of agricultural policy.

Martin Kennedy says farmes need clarity so they can begin to adjust their systems and businesses
Martin Kennedy says farmes need clarity so they can begin to adjust their systems and businesses

Launching its policy pitch yesterday, NFU Scotland warned that it was critical that measures required to address the climate and biodiversity emergencies were put into place with some urgency – and union president Martin Kennedy added that details on the future direction of travel needed to be clarified now to allow farmers to begin adjusting their systems and businesses.

In an attempt to maintain the momentum which had been generated earlier in the year as the FLG reports were drawn together, the union had pulled together a team of academics with practical experience to formulate a delivery package for the measures included on the groups’ reports.

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With a focus on allowing the industry to continue efficient food production while meeting climate and environmental targets, the recommendations of the five FLGs had been presented to the Scottish Government in March.

Kennedy said the industry was in a unique position with cross-sector agreement on the approach – a situation which offered the Scottish Government a massive opportunity to buy into an industry-backed plan which would deliver on all fronts.

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The union’s policy director, Jonnie Hall, together with SRUC chief economist Steven Thomson and independent economist, Dr Andrew Moxey said that the proposed roadmap fully recognised the complexity of current agricultural businesses. It also took into account the need for a single, coherent policy framework that had the flexibility to deliver across all sectors, farm business types and sizes, and geographies in Scotland.

Hall said that for the first time in 50 years the industry would see a non-binary approach to policy:

“In the past the focus has been on production or the environment – but rather than an either/or approach in future both factors will be addressed and the focus in will no longer be on ‘how much’ but on ‘how’.”

Thomson said that while a tier system would be based on rewarding those who delivered the most in terms of environmental outcomes, baseline payments and the move to a fair transition would ensure that those performing at a lower level could improve their technical and environmental performance:

“And this would be done through a combination of capital grants for technical improvements, help from the advisory services and training aimed at continuous professional development.”

Moxey explained that while the proposed measures could be viewed as an evolution of the system already in operation (which would also simplify operational delivery and administration) he said that neither of the two possible alternative systems could deliver on all fronts.

The English Environmental Land Management schemes (ELMS) were not only highly complicated but also limited by WTO rules to simply covering income foregone and additional costs. Moxey said the other option of heavy regulation tended not to deliver while stifling both flexibility and innovation and at the same time leading to massive resistance from the industry.

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