First serious look at future direction, says rural minister
By Shelley Wright
SCOTTISH agricultures forward strategy, released this week, is described by rural development minister, Ross Finnie, as the first serious examination of the future direction of farming in Scotland.
As importantly, the task was carried out in partnership between the Scottish Executive and key stakeholders, with a 14-person steering group representing the interests of farming, the food industry, conservation, consumers and rural development.
"And that is why I am delighted that what we have published has the endorsement of everyone on the steering group. If we are to succeed, it will have to be on the basis of an agreed vision," said Mr Finnie at the launch of the report in Peebles on Tuesday.
In addition to the main proposal of land management contracts (see page 6), the strategy offers another 53 recommendations to help secure the future of those who decide to stay in farming.
"The first question the strategy had to address was: Does Scotland need a farming industry?" Mr Finnie said. The answer was an emphatic yes.
But in a climate of reducing financial support from the EU, changes had to be made. Farmers must produce what the consumer wants and is prepared to pay a reasonable price for. And there must be closer links established with the food industry and tourism.
The strategy does not offer a definitive list, which, if followed, will ensure the survival of all farmers. Instead, it sets out the issues that the strategy group believes must be tackled.
"I believe we can and should grasp this opportunity, but the real decision lies with the industry itself," said Mr Finnie.
Farmers had to consider their three main roles – economic, environmental and their impact on rural life – and look hard at their businesses before deciding whether to continue in agriculture.
Although food production will remain a priority for most farmers, it must be done more transparently. Beef sold under the "Scotch" label, for example, must be from animals born, reared and slaughtered in Scotland. At the moment, more than 30,000 cattle a year move from England to Scotland for finishing.
Mr Finnie said the practice of finished animals, especially sheep, being sold two or three times before finally reaching a slaughterhouse must also cease.
Summing up the strategy, Mr Finnie threw down the challenge to farming: "Are you prepared to make the changes needed?" *
Points to improvement
PRODUCING what the consumer wants is the main theme running through the strategy document.
But within the 54 recommendations there are many specific points. They include:
lBusiness advice to the industry must be improved, with benchmarking and peer review introduced so farmers can test their businesses against others.
lAll sectors of the industry must undertake regular consumer research, and farmers must seek regular feedback so they can respond to customers requirements.
lQuality Meat Scotland will update quality assurance standards and appoint a consumer representative to its board.
lScottish Executive will work to develop full sheep traceability, and speed up scrapie eradication.
lIt will announce its strategy by the end of 2001 for full electronic identification of the national cattle herd.
lThe practice of finished animals, especially sheep, being sold on two or three times must stop.
lStock should go direct from the farm or auction to processors.
lAll beef sold under the "Scotch" label must be born, reared, fed and slaughtered in Scotland.
lA voluntary quota buy-out scheme for sheep will be investigated.
lThe executive will work with the EU to see if Scotland can increase its suckler cow quota.
lBetter training to encourage more young people into the industry.
lLocal enterprise companies, local authorities and other local agencies must identify and develop the economic potential from better links between farming and other rural businesses.
lEnterprise networks will assist those wanting to leave farming.
lA working group involving farmers and environmental groups will be set up to examine the environmental issues likely to hit in the next 5-10 years.