Record numbers respond to Scots agricultural policy consultation

Unprecedented numbers of farmers have had their say on the Scottish government’s post-Brexit agricultural policy following a call by NFU Scotland to get involved.

The consultation document, Agricultural Transition – First Steps Towards Our National Policy, placed strong emphasis on climate change mitigation and biodiversity enhancement, and NFUS said it wanted to ensure farming was seen as part of the solution rather than the problem.

Union officials said the call to members had been answered by the highest-ever level of farmer engagement via meetings and written submissions. 

See also: Food imports treated with banned antibiotics, study finds

With the consultation now closed, NFUS has called for a policy that supports food production, climate change targets and biodiversity enhancement.

Members said they favoured a fundamental shift away from the “blunt instrument of area-based support payments”.

Instead they wanted schemes which incentivised reductions in emissions and maintained food output.

But, rather than scrap the current system of support, the union said a modified but more complex framework was required.

This would have multiple payment tiers based on delivery against climate and biodiversity goals.

Payments must reward attainment to encourage improvement, but also sustained performance, the NFUS said.

The support system should be backed by grant-aid for capital investments and ongoing management targets, along with the provision of information, advice and training, it added.

Supporting farming activity

The union’s overall concern was to see farming activity supported by future schemes rather than a cut to production to achieve climate goals.

“[That] would merely lead to increases in food production elsewhere and Scotland’s agricultural emissions would simply be ‘offshored’,” it argued.

Instead, NFUS called for an adjustment to management practices and carbon storage in soils, peatlands and woodlands.

“Emissions can be reduced through breeding programmes, better animal health and nutrition, and emerging technologies such as methane inhibitors,” NFUS said.

It also urged the government to recognise the scale of grassland’s role in reducing carbon emissions.

The current focus on forestry expansion versus food production was all too blunt, it said.

Landowners echo farmer calls

Scottish landowners echoed the calls made in the NFUS submission.

Scottish Land and Estates (SLE) policy adviser Paul Richardson said the organisation supported links between payments and environmental goals.

These should ensure land was used to tackle the climate and biodiversity emergencies, while maintaining food production at a level which ensured critical mass for adding value and processing.

SLE also suggested:

  • Transformational change should be underpinned by training and guidance
  • Soil and grassland management should become a mainstream consideration in cutting emissions
  • All schemes and mechanisms should be long term and enable businesses to plan for the future
  • All change should be evidence-led
  • Policy for all land management types should be clear and concise to enable choices to be made and businesses to plan for the future, particularly in terms of skills required and capital outlay.

Explore more / Transition

This article forms part of Farmers Weekly’s Transition series, which looks at how farmers can make their businesses more financially and environmentally sustainable.

During the series we follow our group of 16 Transition Farmers through the challenges and opportunities as they seek to improve their farm businesses.

Transition is an independent editorial initiative supported by our UK-wide network of partners, who have made it possible to bring you this series.

Visit the Transition content hub to find out more.