Royal Highland Show success demonstrates public support of farming - now SNP government must do the same

It has been a record day for visitors at the Royal Highland Show, which is celebrating its 240th year this year.

With ticket sales up 15 per cent on the year before, hundreds of thousands of people continue to flock to what is Scotland’s largest outdoor event.

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The impressive Scotland’s Larder boasting hundreds of independent, Scottish food and drink stalls nestled in the grounds where animals roam between the crowds is an important reminder of the farm to fork link, something that can be forgotten when grabbing a sandwich from a supermarket on a lunchbreak.

It’s clear from the popularity of the event, which sees visitor numbers grow year on year, that Scotland’s people are interested in Scotland’s farmers, from the way they work the land to the way they produce food.

But among the furore and excitement at the showground, there is an anxiety over whether government legislation is going in the right direction to both grow and protect a sector that not only feeds the nation, but also holds a significant role in the country’s resilience in a changing climate.

Scotland’s Agriculture Bill, which has been drawn up to empower farmers and crofters to contribute to high-quality food production, climate mitigation, nature restoration and the sustainability of rural communities, was just passed this month.

While this was welcomed by the National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS), and addressed issues the union lobbied for, essential and long-awaited detail is still yet to come: how the new four-tiered subsidy payment support framework will work from 2026.

Former First Minister Humza Yousaf announced earlier this year that 70 per cent of future support will be direct payments. But that is still vague for a sector that is dealing with livestock and crops that, in some cases, need years of planning in advance. For some farmers looking to move away from the mainstream style of farming to encompassing more regenerative farming practices, it can take about a decade for a realistic transition. But there needs to be that assurance of funding for some farmers because the transition can present risks to the businesses their livelihoods depend on.

According to the European Alliance for Regenerative Agriculture, countries on the continent are already talking about planned funding allocations under CAP for the 2030s. Scotland farmers still don’t know what’s happening next year.

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First Minister John Swinney, who attended the Royal Highland Show this week, assured NFUS there will be “no cliff edges” in the transition. But with years needed to invest in planning for some agriculture businesses, the Central Belt-focused politician’s comments feel like just warm words for some farmers.

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Another cornerstone for a strong and resilient future for agriculture is encouraging future generations to bring fresh ideas into the sector.

But conversations at this year’s show about policy, or lack of, on supporting new entrants into farming were bleak.

While the Land Reform Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament earlier this year to tackle concentrated land ownership and assess land sales, critics have pointed to there being little to no legislation on how to improve access to the land market for aspiring small-scale farmers.

Visitor numbers are bound to reach record levels again next year, but the Scottish Government must prioritise effective use of its new Bill and clarity of funding for farmers for both food production and land resilience so that we can reap the benefits of agriculture in years to come.



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