Scotland's agritourism industry needs help from government if it is to continue to grow – Christine Jardine
The excitement of being served up the tatties for dinner that I had picked myself at the farm near where we were on holiday is still etched on my memory. As a child of the city, life on a farm had always seemed like a great adventure, and so to learn this week that tapping into that popular attraction is creating a success for Scotland should have been no surprise.
Agritourism is currently estimated to be worth around £60 million to the economy and, post-Covid, is predicted to be a vital area of growth. Many of us will have visited farm shops, booked glamping holidays on farmland or spent a messy few hours picking our own fruit, without realising that we were contributing not just to local developments but a national trend.
There are now more than 100 agri-businesses dotted across the map of Scotland. Many of them, like Craigies just outside Edinburgh, grow from small beginnings, like a cabin that sold eggs and farm produce when available turning into a major local retail and catering centre. Or the vacant fields used to create luxury getaways for holidaymakers, adventure parks or days out and experiences that bring joy to families every year. All of them recognising and profiting from the popular enthusiasm for locally sourced produce that creates the least possible damage through its carbon footprint.
But at a meeting in Edinburgh this week, I learned that a combination of a lack of government awareness and post-Brexit employment problems are threatening to create obstacles for a diversification that is breathing life into rural communities from the Borders to Shetland. Traditional tourism is also recognised as one of our most important industries, bringing an estimated £6 billion into the economy pre-pandemic. That represents five per cent of our GDP and supports more than 200,000 jobs across the country.
And as we seek to foster better relations beyond our shores, this matters perhaps more than it ever has. But for those involved in agritourism, the authorities seem to have been disappointingly slow to recognise the importance of their specialist sector and offer the same sort of support that’s available in European neighbours like Italy and Portugal.
Those businesses I met this week represented a variety of locations and enterprises but all of them are making a common appeal to both their governments. In this post-Brexit environment with energy bills soaring and employment shortages, they are clear about what they need to help them continue to grow.
Like most businesses, they are feeling the impact of energy prices and the reduced footfall as people cut back on the ‘nice to haves’. To overcome that they say they need a reassessment of new business rates and a reduction in VAT. Government has a responsibility to nurture this industry, the importance of which can’t be understated. Not just for the economy, not just for climate change, but so that future generations can make the memories I was lucky enough to make.
Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West
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