Frustration over lack of detail on Scots future farm support

Farm leaders responded with frustration to a Scottish future farm support announcement at the Royal Highland Show that lacked key details.

Rural affairs secretary Mairi Gougeon urged farmers and crofters to “prepare for change” as she announced an updated version of the route map published in February.

See also: Changes to Scottish support risk ‘forcing farmers out’

The document set out some of the criteria farmers will need to meet to qualify for payments from 2025 (see box), but the specifics of this conditionality are still to be ironed out.

NFU Scotland president Martin Kennedy and director of policy Jonnie Hall welcomed the additional information on the direction of travel, but warned the “devil would be in the detail”.

Mr Hall also suggested the fact that there was no indication of how big the budget will be or how it would be split between the four tiers of the Scottish government’s new scheme was “almost as big” a problem as the lack of policy itself.

“We can design and implement the best policy in the world, but if we’ve only got tuppence ha’penny to put towards it, it’s a house of cards,” he said.

Pressed by Farmers Weekly at the show on whether complying with the additional conditionality would cost farmers, Ms Gougeon said: “I don’t think it’s as straightforward as that.

“Some of the conditions will help with business efficiency. When we look at the carbon audits and soil testing, they are important in and of themselves, but it’s the action off the back of that which is critical here.”

Former NFU Scotland president Jim Walker, however, said the requirements to have a biodiversity audit, a carbon audit, soil testing and an animal health and welfare plan would all have financial implications – even if the initial cost was supported with government cash.

“If you take soil samples and discover the pH of the soils is 4.5 and you’ve got to get it over six, does she not think there’s going to be a financial implication of doing that?” he asked.

He also suggested the cost of the audits and tests would be met using funds that currently go to farmers.

“At the moment, you’re giving farmers money that allows them to live,” he said.

“This won’t allow them to live. Once you discover what it is you’re auditing, then that will require capital investment to do something about it, which will further erode the funding currently going to farming, which is income.”

Conditions for receiving payment from 2025

  • A “whole farm plan”, which will include soil testing, animal health and welfare declaration, carbon audits, biodiversity audits and supported business planning
  • Protections for peatlands and wetlands to help farmers restore these vital habitats to sequester more carbon
  • New conditions to the Scottish Suckler Beef Support Scheme to help cut emissions intensity and make beef production more efficient

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