Post-Brexit support for Scottish agriculture must target three things – financial stability, productivity and the environment – though over time the balance should shift away from the first of these and towards the other two.
That is the model being advocated by NFU Scotland in its latest “Steps to Change” document, presented to Scotland’s rural economy secretary, Fergus Ewing, at Holyrood, Edinburgh on Wednesday (28 March).
“Given the scale and nature of the changes ahead, farmers and crofters will need to be given the time and the tools to adapt and to become more resilient,” said NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick.
“That means enabling a transition, over several years, from the current CAP system of support to a new Scottish agricultural policy.”
According to Mr McCornick, the rate of transition should be dependent upon emerging trade deals and improvements in the balance of power within the food and drink supply chain.
“Better and stable market returns, then faster transition,” he said. “Poorer or volatile market returns, then transition is paused.”
The paper makes clear that direct payments should remain a key mechanism for providing financial stability north of the border – certainly during a transition period which NFU Scotland says should last until “at least 2027”.
“To enable profitable farms and crofts in the future, a new system of delivering direct support for financial stability must reward the risk and decision-taker,” says the report.
It should “move away from existing area-based payments to a new system based on eligible payment hectares”.
More disadvantaged areas should be entitled to top-ups, it adds, and there should be scope for vulnerable sectors to receive “coupled” (production-linked) support.
However, NFU Scotland does envisage these payments reducing over time, and has suggested a range of productivity and environmental measures which can be phased in, with government support, over time.
Welsh and Scots vent their frustration
Welsh and Scottish government representatives have expressed their growing frustration and anger with Westminster at the lack of certainty on rural funding post Brexit, and an alleged lack of ambition in relation to the environment.
Following a meeting with Defra, Welsh rural affairs secretary, Lesley Griffiths said: “I was encouraged by commitments to work collaboratively, engagement through our long-standing quadrilateral arrangements and huge efforts going on at official level.
“But crucially we still lack certainty on rural funding, we find information is not being shared with us, and we are concerned about Defra’s efforts to water down our joint statement on an environmental vision.”
Scottish rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing said he was “absolutely committed to a collaborative approach on key shared interests on rural and environmental matters”, but he was “increasingly frustrated at UK ministers’ failure to take that seriously”.
“For example we have not been provided with copies of key documents of importance such as the draft agriculture bill – nor have we even been advised when these and other documents will be available.”