OR THE whole of the Scottish parliament’s lifetime, farm policy and support in Scotland has been determined by membership of the EU, and more specifically, the Common Agricultural Policy.
With the UK’s decision to leave the EU, there is no doubt that the year ahead will be difficult. That is why the Scottish Government has made it clear that no matter what else happens, farm and rural businesses will receive their current payments largely as they currently are, and not just in 2019 but in every year until 2022.
This commitment is at the heart of our transition plan, ‘Stability and Simplicity’ – the most detailed proposals of any UK administration. My offer is clear. Unlike DEFRA for England, I will not be abolishing direct payments, nor will I fail to put food production at the centre of our future plans.
I will provide simplicity and stability wherever possible. I will continue to recognise the primacy of food production, the vital role our farmers and crofters play in protecting our countryside, and will continue farm support payments for as far as possible, before introducing our own improvements over time.
What is clear from the consultation responses is the need for a period of stability and a properly managed transition from CAP to a new home-grown scheme from 2024. This must be supported by a clear understanding of funding guarantees and desired outcomes. Key to this is a strong appetite to simplify existing schemes and to that end, I will shortly confirm members of our Simplification Taskforce.
Importantly, our continuity approach does not rely in any way on the UK Government’s Agriculture Bill. So while I understand the clamour for policy direction, I feel strongly that we need to get this right. If that means taking time to properly consider proposals and stakeholder feedback then so be it.
However, I agree that we need to continue to build upon the progress we have made to date and establish the principles that will underpin future support mechanisms. My aim will be to seek Parliament’s input, so that we have a future approach that commands full support and is one in which everyone can have confidence .
This is in stark contrast to the lack of clarity emanating from the UK. One of the most pressing being the basis on which Scotland’s future funding allocation will be made. With the support of the Scottish Parliament I have been pressing relentlessly for a review into future funding and the return of the £160 million owed to our hill farmers.
Away from Brexit, we have delivered on a number of key ‘business as usual’ promises. We have paid over 99% of basic, greening and young farmer payments before the June deadline and 97% Scottish suckler beef and upland sheep support scheme payments.
We have made loan payments totalling £53 million to some of our most marginalised farmers and crofters who receive LFASS support. We intend to pay all Pillar Two payments by the end of December – if not before then. In all, by the end of the year, we will have paid more than £500 million into rural businesses, showing this government’s determination to deliver for rural Scotland.
We have allocated more than £22 million to help develop new entrants into farming and identified over 2100 hectares of public land that is to be made available to new entrants.
Recognising the prolonged severe weather experienced by farmers, we sought and received EU approval to allow farmers temporary flexibility in implementing greening rules. Our weather panel has provided invaluable advice to the industry, while we have also made arrangements to extend planned beef efficiency scheme workshops.
All of this gives us a strong base to build from to ensure we improve what we do currently, and develop effective support mechanisms for rural Scotland. There is no doubt that the next few years are going to be extremely challenging, which is why this government is determined to do all it can to provide farmers and rural businesses with security, simplicity and stability.