Attendees and apologies
- Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands (co-chair)
- Martin Kennedy (co-chair)
Items and actions
Agenda Item 1: welcome and Introductions
Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands welcomed everyone to the seventh meeting of the Agriculture Reform Implementation Oversight Board and confirmed no apologies received. Chairs also welcomed the guest speakers from SRUC, and the new Communications specialist.
Agenda Item 2: minutes of previous meetings and live actions outstanding
In light of the substantive items to be discussed, it was agreed that there being no substantive comments on the minutes and actions, any other comments be raised via email to the Secretariat.
Agenda item 3: communications and engagement
The Board were advised that the immediate communications priority has been to examine the policy objectives of the Agriculture and Rural Economy Directorate (ARE) with a view to creating a strategy which will include mapping out industry stakeholders to understand what farmers, crofters and land managers need to know. The strategy will outline the proposed journey from awareness to engagement, to ensure Government is as collaborative, inclusive and transparent as possible.
While the detail of the future policy landscape is still under development, the Vision statement illustrates the type of agricultural sector envisaged and so we must be clear on the process to get there. Therefore, as part of that awareness to engagement process, the comms plan will first focus on the rollout of Track 1. In terms of timescales, RPID staff will be briefed towards the end of January, with more detail for the Board in February. Thereafter, stakeholder guidance will be developed in April ahead of Track 1 going live.
Members unanimously welcomed this approach and some offered engagement with their organisation’s own comms specialists in addition to farmers as part of that collaborative approach. It was discussed that the vacuum within the industry must soon be filled as farmers have expressed concern about insufficient information being made available to them.
ARIOB members reminded the Chair that there had been an action to establish a comms sub-group and recommended that this be picked up again, with a priority to confirm timescales for the implementation of the National Test Programme. An action point was taken.
Agenda item 4: update on tracks 1 and 2
Officials outlined some of the work being done to establish better governance, including the appointment of Senior Responsible Owners (SROs) for Tracks 1 and 2, respectively, as well as formalised teams and management. Officials met with the Policy Development Group (PDG) on 13 January to share a number of proposals to ensure the Twin Tracks were taking the right approach. Officials advised that ultimately, Track 1 is made up of three key elements:
- carbon audits;
- soil testing and nutrient management plans; and
- livestock performance data
Officials confirmed Board that per previous discussions, there is the potential to add biodiversity audits and Animal Health and Welfare plans further down the line.
Officials continue to examine appropriate payment rates and testing with the objective of producing something attractive to farmers which both delivers the intended policy and engages users to make a meaningful contribution to their business ahead of eventual CAP replacement. It is also imperative that claims’ processing and the associated administrative work required for farmers is fit for purpose and not overly bureaucratic, so IT co-design is at the forefront of that workstream.
In relation to Track 2, its key elements include research & development, and reform and conditionality. A carefully selected representative sample of 1500 crofters and farmers will test out some of that research and development.
In terms of risks, officials are conscious that the Statutory Instrument (SI) to make payments has been laid but not yet been approved, although there is no anticipation of any difficulties based on legal advice received. In addition, SG is awaiting a response to the WTO notification which has been issued to the (UK Co-ordinating Body (UKCB). This is arguably a bigger dependency/risk given its unprecedented nature.
As mentioned earlier, consideration is being given to ensuring the package encourages baselining to avoid lack of uptake with that focus on making clear the business benefits of taking advantage of the package.
There was some concern that the offers in Track 1 may not be going far enough to make it sufficiently attractive, especially as many crofters and farmers are already undertaking the activities proposed. It was argued that the rhetoric needs to be matched with appropriate funding and that would enthuse the industry to come behind this full scale. Others felt it important to consider the overall package and for those people who hadn’t even started on their baselining journey.
Concerns were raised about support payments and the need for certainty on rates and launching. It was observed that Spring is an exceptionally busy period for farmers, and it would be important not to overburden them, but Summer will be too late. Officials confirmed that a Spring launch is planned, and although acknowledging obvious issues with such as post-harvest analysis, Track 1 is about beginning the journey and making such work routine on a larger scale than is being done currently.
Members agreed on the need for clearer messaging on the principles of any new scheme, particularly in terms of eligibility and what it means for people at various stages in the journey. A Framework for delivery was seen to be imperative and some members suggested that ARIOB meet more frequently to support framework development. Chair committed to following up with a definitive timetable and firm launch date at the next meeting (21 February) and an action point was taken.
Animal health and welfare
Several members felt that the Animal Health and Welfare (AHW) Plans should be introduced as part of the initial Track 1 package, particularly as livestock are acknowledged to be the biggest emitters. Given QMS are already utilising these plans amongst their membership (circa 10,000) this could be a ‘quick win’ when much of the information has already been captured, is easy to measure and would lessen the burden on Government. It was pointed out that AHW plans also have the added benefits of helping Anti-Microbial Resistance and improving animal welfare more generally, as is already being observed in England, and Scotland should not be left behind.
Officials noted the desire to bring the AHW Plans forward but cautioned that there is the imperative to ensure that ‘business as usual’ work paying famers continues unimpeded and consequently, resource capacity issues across the entirety of the ARE and RPID teams to consider if the scope of Track 1 is increased in terms of timing/activity. They noted that it would be helpful to understand what the QMS scheme is and what additionality is looked for by the ARIOB.
Chair committed to setting out a pathway to the introduction of AHW Plans as part of Track 1, which would include a comms plan to its timeline and implementation. Officials confirmed that they would engage with AHW colleagues, including the Chief Veterinary Officer, to ensure that the pathway would complement the livestock data review, examine resourcing requirements. It was also agreed that SG officials should meet QMS and SOAS.
Soil testing and nutrient testing plans
Officials confirmed that carbon analysis will form part of the soil testing plans, but a point was raised that soil biology beyond bacteria and carbon be captured. Officials were open to this suggestion but advised that this level of detail is likely to feature more prominently as part of the research and development stage of Track 2.
Agenda Item 5: the potential for agroecology in Scotland
At one of its previous meetings, the ARIOB expressed a wish to discuss sustainable and regenerative agriculture and today heard a presentation on the findings of the Climate X Change (CXC) project on an agroecological approach.
The Board were informed that agroecology is multi-faceted approach to farming which can be broadly broken down into 13 themes:
- Animal health
- Co-creation of knowledge
- Connectivity between producers and consumers
- Economic diversification
- Ecosystem synergy
- Fairness and robust livelihoods
- Input reduction
- Land and natural resource governance
- Social values and diets
- Soil health
An agroecological approach can be adapted based on farmer choice and preference. There are undoubtedly benefits including healthier ecosystems and contributing to the wider societal solution to tackle climate change. However, on the negative side, there is the unavoidable cost of transitioning, delay in yielding results and the lack of permanency amongst many farmers, particularly tenants.
The Board welcomed the presentation and a brief discussion followed, again, on messaging and language when promoting this type of approach – not to mention that many farmers are doing this unofficially or under another name.
Several members noted that it is essential to understand the potential and pitfalls of all the different Scottish agricultural systems before the ARIOB could make any recommendation as to a future direction of travel. The full CxC Report will be out in a few weeks, but it was confirmed that it is a fairly broad brush approach. There are a multitude of factors that would influence the farmer’s decision on how to proceed. A reference was made to an article by Davy McCracken (member of the Academic Advisory Panel) which stressed the need to not forget about High Nature Value farming and how critical it is that to bear that in mind.
It was noted that the language used in the CxC Report was not accessible, and that it might engage better with a wider audience if the terminology is reframed. How the Report is communicated will also be critical if it is to be impactful.
Agenda Item 6: green finance and carbon markets
This was another request from ARIOB to discuss and on account of the meeting overrunning, the three main issues to note were highlighted:
- We must seek to balance public and farmer benefits, where land managers continue to use land as they do currently but transitioning to land sharing as opposed to land sparing (agri to forestry)
- There is an obvious danger that if we don’t design agriculture policy properly, it could crowd out private investment waiting in the wings and potentially waste taxpayers’ money. Thought must be given to how policy makers might design the Agri Bill and/or an Agri-environment scheme to leverage private finance
- It is critical that the policy making leads to high integrity markets for positive outcomes for the sector, including real benefits for rural communities
Discussion followed on investment – some opined that the design of public policy has an impact on the potential role of private investment to support and deliver change, so a much broader potential as public funding may fall short of what’s required and the idea of blended finance a realistic way forward. However, others warned that tenants and new entrants could exluded if capital gains become the norm, in addition to the obvious potential for greenwashing and supply chain issues.
In terms of those already in the industry, ensuring the right approach to allow existing farmers and crofters to access novel sources of income is likely to be key to sustaining businesses in the future while mitigating against the risks to tenants and local communities mentioned earlier.
Members concurred that regulation needs to keep pace with the market and user demand and the example of peatland restoration and the arduous planning process was offered.
Some queried the relevance of this discussion to the work of the ARIOB, but it was pointed out that these wider strategic discussions need to take place to consider the range of benefits across all land which could be supported by private finance. RLUPs were cited as a useful route to blended finance approaches but only when there was further clarity around them.
Any other business
The Board was keen to ensure the continued development of the its workplan, including setting out short, medium and long term objectives, and identifying any potential sub-groups to assist in development, timescales and meeting frequency. An action point was taken.
Finally, co-chair raised the possibility of early evening meetings to allow those on-farm to make most of daylight hours.
In closing the meeting, Chair thanked members for attending and reminded them that the next meeting of the ARIOB will take place on 21 February.
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