Attendees and apologies
- Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands (Co-Chair)
- Martin Kennedy (Co-Chair)
Items and actions
Welcome and introductions
Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands welcomed everyone to the eighth meeting of the Agriculture Reform Implementation Oversight Board (ARIOB) and advised that the meeting would be shorter than usual in light of the more substantive meeting scheduled for 4 March (2022).
Co-chair echoed Chair’s welcome, adding that the in person meeting on the 4 March was a positive step and a great opportunity to discuss a wide range of issues in depth.
Minutes of previous meeting
In light of the shorter meeting ahead Chair proposed that, unless there were substantive issues regarding the minutes and actions which members wished to raise, any comments be submitted by email to the Secretariat.
Tracks 1 and 2 progress update
Officials provided an update on the progress of Tracks 1 and 2 of the National Test Programme (NTP) focussing principally on the implementation of Track 1 and in particular soil analysis, carbon audits and the Livestock Performance Programme.
The goal is to provide farmers, crofters and landowners with the opportunity to start baselining their businesses in preparation for Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform, and to give them the tools that will help them lower emissions and become more efficient. Key principles put forward include:
- new systems should be designed to be user friendly
- ensure broad eligibility requirements to be as inclusive as possible
- design to encourage participation
- expectation that regular, ongoing carbon audits and soil analysis will be the basis of good practice
- payments to reflect actual costs for soil analysis, to account for differing farming systems
- organic content of soils to be measured
- system will accommodate smaller holdings that may find it more practical to do all their soil analysis in a single year
- one-off payment for training or self-guided learning to help managers do their own nutrient plans
Officials then ran through some case studies to provide some. Ultimately, the aim is to ensure engagement and participation in the process right from the beginning. It is essential to be mindful of the benefit to overall scheme from near universal participation, so the proposals are have been at pains to make it as attractive as possible for people.
There then followed a summary of the key points relating to the programme, as things currently stand:
- costs are still to be signed off
- World Trade Organisation (WTO) requirements have now been satisfied
- mandates are still under discussion, particularly as many farmers will instruct agents/consultants to carry out some, or all, of this work on their behalf;
- developing a new delivery platform is underway (digital standard)
- officials are concerned about potential double funding (carbon audits can be paid through Farm Advisory Service (FAS)) and will monitor
- guidance will likely be published in April, with a view to functionality for making claims towards the end of May
- finally, payment should not be the sole message, rather it is in addition to behaviour change towards CAP reform and meeting our climate change targets
Officials moved onto the Livestock Performance Programme (LPP) overview, as highlighted by farmer-led groups, which will ensure farmers can access data and reports in a format to aid the running of their businesses. LPP will appear in Track 1 of the Programme and the trial involving 40 farms will follow as part of Track 2.
Officials were also mindful that there had been discussions around Animal Health & Welfare plans at the previous ARIOB meeting (20 January) and this will be followed up at the next ARIOB meeting on 4 March. An indicative timeline through to September 2022 was shown to members.
The new comms lead indicated that there had been a helpful meeting with some ARIOB members who had kindly volunteered their time to discuss requirements. The key messages to get across are that Track 1 is about enabling farmers to futureproof their businesses, and Track 2 is about helping to deliver wider Scottish Government objectives. A phased approach to guidance which is informed by ARIOB feedback will help inform in respect of that wider context. As has been mentioned before, much of the success of the programme will depend on peer-to-peer encouragement and industry recommendation.
Reassurance was offered in relation to small unit eligibility – there is no minimum size for businesses to take part and the programme is budgeted to run for three years.
Officials acknowledged that although the programme may not be considered perfect, it has been tailored based on feedback from members and will be reviewed following the first year with scope to amend. However, this will be done in a practical and realistic manner in the context of what is a three year programme.
Data capture and the difficulty in being able to use it was discussed, particularly given the likely high volume of material as a result of the programme. Farmers and crofters will be asked to maintain their own data as Government doesn’t have a central database to utilise it at this stage, but it may in future. Investigating this further could fall into Track 2.
The importance of measuring behavioural change and the extent to which the programme has encouraged land managers to carry out audits was raised at different points during the meeting. Officials agreed to keep in mind the need to ask careful questions about past soil testing practices.
Members welcomed the CPD element of the programme. It was queried if CPD would be available separately from soil testing if, for example, a full soil analysis had already been completed. Officials considered it should be acceptable but would investigate further.
Some members enquired as to whether soil sampling minimum standards would be introduced. Officials confirmed that there will be no SG minimum standards for this work based on the fact that this work is done through appropriate laboratories and/or agents. It’s also difficult to define standards and assign responsibility but this will be reviewed after the first year of the scheme to ensure public funds are spent appropriately. The goal has been to create as light touch a scheme as possible for the benefit of all involved and, as a result, a risk based, proportionate approach to soil sampling is favoured.
The issue of ensuring the quality of consultation guidance post-audit was raised again – will there be support made available to those delivering CPD? Officials have examined guidance and available publicly and from other providers. There will be a two-fold guidance approach – basic best practice and understanding with links and references to guidance of appropriate standard.
A follow-up concern was raised in relation to conditionality. However, other than meeting the scheme requirements there will be no additional conditionality. Again, this will be reviewed through inspections, probably initially at a higher rate than other scheme inspections given that acknowledged risk, but the higher frequency may decrease in time.
The question was asked if farmers who had completed a full soil analysis in the last year as part of a five yearly cycle would be able to benefit from the allowance. As it was unlikely the analysis would have included the prerequisite carbon audit no payments could be made.
In terms of eligibility of carbon audits, a query was raised in relation to aligning with PAS 2050 rather than outright registration. Aligning was chosen because of the expense associated with PAS 2050 registration and there are a number of agents already adhering to PAS principles without formally registering. However, officials concurred that clarification is required for farmers to ensure full comprehension of requirements.
Communications and engagement
A brief update was provided to the Board on the work undertaken to develop the communications strategy for the Tracks 1 and 2 work. Earlier discussions on the critical aspect of behaviour change in relation to what Government is asking as part of Track 1 were flagged up, and ARIOB members were thanked for meeting with her and helping shape the forthcoming comms strategy.
Chair updated the Board that going forward, the ARIOB will be focussing on broad themes for discussion and the workplan sets out the plan for the next few meetings with the specific discussion items listed per theme.
Chair reminded the Board that the next meeting will be in-person and will be held at the Gannochy Suite at the Dewars Centre, Glover Street, Perth on 4 March.
Chair and Co-chair thanked members for their attendance and officials for their work in getting the programme to this point and looked forward to meeting members in person on 4 March.
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