Scotland can lead the world in climate-friendly farming – Mairi Gougeon

With a new First Minister and a refreshed Cabinet, Scotland is entering an ambitious and progressive age in policy.

While the challenges have never been greater, so too are the opportunities ahead. I feel honoured and privileged to return to my role as Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands – with some new responsibilities, including land reform, forestry, and peatlands.

The magnitude of the task I face is not lost on me, as our rural communities deal with some of the most difficult and damaging issues in generations. The impacts of Brexit, the Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine continue to be felt.

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We are in the grasp of a cost-of-living crisis, facing shortages of certain fresh produce and economic uncertainty. As we witness the effects of the climate and nature emergencies across the world, the need to take action is becoming more and more urgent. That’s why I’ve already committed to providing over £44 million from this year’s budget to support farmers and crofters to make the transition to more sustainable and regenerative farming – helping to achieve our statutory emissions targets.

As we make this transition together, I am committed to supporting active farming and food production with direct payments. Our Vision for Agriculture has food production at its heart and makes clear our support for farmers and crofters in providing the country with healthy nutritious food. We have also established a new Food Security Unit to analyse ongoing supply chain vulnerabilities and help to bolster industry confidence during these hugely challenging times.

To help businesses continue to deal with financial challenges and uncertainty, I have ensured there will be a direct cash injection of more than £630 million earmarked for the rural economy over the coming financial year. Whilst maintaining a period of stability and security, we will design a robust and coherent framework to underpin Scotland’s future agricultural support regime from 2025 onwards that delivers climate mitigation and adaptation, nature restoration and high-quality food production.

Agriculture is devolved, but it is crucial our policies are unhindered by the threats posed by the UK Internal Market Act, Subsidy Control Regime and lack of replacement EU funding. I will continue to push the UK Government on these issues, despite their constant snubs and refusal to engage with us. Earlier this week I was extremely disappointed that the Secretary of State was once again unavailable to attend our regular intergovernmental meeting.

This is the fourth time, no less, that Thérèse Coffey has refused to discuss important issues facing Scotland – including retained EU law, the Windsor Framework, and fresh produce shortages. In fact, she has only attended one, very brief meeting since she became Secretary of State. I think this dismissive attitude is reflective of the unilateral choices imposed by the UK Government and HM Treasury.

In the future, at least half of all funding for farms and crofts will be linked to improving biodiversity and reducing carbon emissions (Picture: Mark Runnacles/PA Wire)In the future, at least half of all funding for farms and crofts will be linked to improving biodiversity and reducing carbon emissions (Picture: Mark Runnacles/PA Wire)
In the future, at least half of all funding for farms and crofts will be linked to improving biodiversity and reducing carbon emissions (Picture: Mark Runnacles/PA Wire)

The UK Government promised full EU replacement funding and collective engagement on future funding. This was a Bew Review commitment reaffirmed by previous Secretaries of State. Despite this, between 2021-22 and 2024-25, Scotland is set to lose out on approximately £93 million and there is no funding commitment from 2025 onwards.

However, our country is well-placed to become a global leader in sustainable and regenerative farming. Many farmers are already leading the way and they deserve praise for working to produce food sustainably, in ways that actively benefit both nature and climate.

In the future, at least half of all funding for farming and crofting will be targeted towards outcomes for biodiversity gain and a drive towards low-carbon approaches to improve the resilience, efficiency and profitability of the sector. This improved resilience will be a critical part of our just transition to net-zero emissions, allowing farmers and crofters to prosper as we build a net-zero economy.

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Our recently published route map for the Agricultural Reform Programme provides information on key dates for guidance, support and how and when current schemes will change. I want to stress again that there will be no cliff edges in support for our farmers and crofters.

Right now, our Preparing for Sustainable Farming initiative (PSF) is already helping businesses prepare for these changes with support for conducting carbon audits and soil sampling, support for animal health and welfare activities, and access to herd data for suckler beef producers through MyHerdStats. This is in addition to the support available to farmers and crofters as part of the Agri-Environment Climate Scheme, Forestry Grant Scheme, Peatland Action, and the Nature Restoration Fund.

But it is not just support payments – our whole approach to land management in Scotland will also change as we tackle the twin biodiversity and climate crises. This will come with challenges, but it also presents new opportunities for farmers and crofters, such as private investment in sustainable land management.

What I see and hear from all the farmers and crofters I meet is a willingness and an appetite for change. So we will keep engaging with the sector as we continue to develop our plans.

Soon we will publish a report on the findings of the Agriculture Bill consultation, and we will continue to work closely with industry partners, including the Agriculture and Rural Development Stakeholder Group, the Agriculture Reform Implementation Oversight Board, and directly with farmers, crofters and land managers on development of the future support framework.

There is much to do, but I firmly believe that here in Scotland, we have an opportunity to do things differently. Westminster might not care about their environment and countryside and supporting their farmers – but we do. Scotland can be an exemplar for climate-friendly farming and lead the rest of the world. We already have the ambition, the optimism, the enthusiasm and the talent we need to succeed.

Mairi Gougeon is Rural Affairs Secretary and SNP MSP for Angus North and Mearns



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