Agricultural Reform Implementation Oversight Board minutes: 27 October 2021

Minutes of the meeting of the Agriculture Reform Implementation Oversight Board, held on 27 October 2021.

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 attendees to the fourth meeting of the Agriculture Reform Implementation Oversight Board, thanking them for their contributions so far.

The main focus of this meeting related to the revised package of measures ahead of the formal announcement at the annual National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS) conference on Thursday 28 October.

Minutes of previous meetings and actions arising

These were updated as required.

Academic Advisory Panel (AAP)

Dr Andrew Millar, Scottish Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor for Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture spoke about the AAP and its function. Dr Millar outlined that the AAP consists of 10 external advisors in addition to himself, many of whom were previously involved in most of the farmer-led groups’ work, so there is familiarity with the history as well as new voices.

The AAP is in receipt of Board papers and will take questions from both the Board and Agricultural Policy Development Group (PDG) in future, providing feedback to the Board and officials. There is an expectation that the AAP will begin making substantive comments as the implementation stage of this work is entered, particularly as the revised package reflects comments the AAP has already made, including a twin-track approach and integrated baselining.

Discussion followed on the membership of the Panel with some suggesting additional members and asking how to ensure that the AAP is connected to the Agricultural Reform Implementation Oversight Board (ARIOB). Dr Millar confirmed to the Board that he attends Board meetings to form a bridge to the AAP and that while there is always an argument for increasing expertise on an academic panel, he is confident the current make-up provides a sufficiently wide range of input and reassured the Board that it is linked in to a wide-range of evidence-providers. Chair noted she is happy to have the AAP up and running and looks forward to further updates as matters progress.

Vision statement

Chair advised that the vision was not yet ready for circulation as it requires further Ministerial discussion but reassured members that it would be circulated as soon as practically possible.

National Test Programme – package of measures

In summary, the Twin Track approach aims to reach as wide an audience as possible in addition to developing processes and tools. Track 1 will be open to all to start their climate change journey and begin baselining at a farm level (where not already being done) and, at this stage, on a voluntary basis. The second track will enable us to gain a robust understanding of how new conditionality can apply and how data gathering and sharing can be used to support it – a more detailed body of work with a smaller cohort. This is with a view to being ready for when the Agriculture Bill becomes law in 2025.


Overall, there was agreement that there remains a lack of ambition and strategic direction, and that what is proposed may not be considered as an emergency response to the climate emergency.

Some said they were disappointed at the lack of inclusion of animal health, nutrient management plans etc, and wanted to see those included in future work. 

A point was also made that the proposals do not directly support on-farm action, but rather benefits those supporting farmers to meet the requisite conditions.

However, generally members thought the proposals vastly improved and acknowledged that, given the timescales involved, this is a solid platform on which to build.


There were many who noted that the proposals are not ambitious enough on biodiversity. Officials advised that although the PDG also wanted to go further on this issue, NatureScot have advised on deliverability issues in the short-term, noting their work is not ready for mass rollout as part of Track 1. However, that did not mean there could be no biodiversity options and some, such as a simple asset assessment, can be explored during the implementation phase. 


There was a suggestion that, based on the proposal that there are clear data standards defined, a commitment to an open market for carbon auditing could reduce costs, so perhaps offering a range of payment for the audit rather than a fixed rate could be adopted. 

There was also some discussion that the auditing be holistic to include carbon footprinting, biodiversity, animal health, nutrient management and welfare which broadly require the same data so could facilitate integrated data collection.

Advisory Services

There was concern expressed about the capacity of advisory services and ensuring that any advice relating to this work is of high quality. The Board were keen to ensure there will be sufficient capacity to help people deliver carbon audits with benefits clearly explained to businesses and members pointed to the potential reputational damage if this isn’t in place at the start.


It was flagged that we must address the fundamental flaws in the current system, not look to simply set conditions to ensure direct payments, but have auditable outcomes related to emissions reducing targets. Co-chair agreed that conditionality shouldn’t be the end goal but is necessary to get people on-board and not forget the need to ensure Scotland continues to produce high quality, sustainable food.

There was acknowledgement that a lot of farmers are doing what they should be already when it comes to baselining and that ‘additionality’ be considered and developed to reward people going “over and above”. This is something which perhaps the AAP could provide advice on.


Members endorsed the proposal to establish common data reporting standards, agreeing that a plan is needed to ensure consistency and common metrics across the country, and that perhaps a working group, into which the AAP could contribute, would be needed. There was agreement that the data should be accessible to all farmers, auditable, and that if developed correctly it could potentially lead to reduced costs to the public purse. Thought must be given to helping farmers to use and understand the data to drive on-farm behaviour change.

Officials noted that data therefore needed to be something which is not just considered internally (in Scottish Government) but also externally, and this is something they will begin looking at. It needs to be viewed in the context of the existing structure however as maintaining current systems is an imperative. 

Whole System approach

Some members pointed out that it might be helpful to frame the proposals in the context of a Climate Smart Farm Programme approach as proposed by the Arable FLG which set out a three tier Climate Smart approach. There was some enthusiasm for this type of approach, with members providing insight into their own experience of developing an integrated farm management approach to align with the Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF) Marque standard accreditation scheme and others such as Red Tractor, Soil Association etc. There was agreement that something like this whole farm approach which is flexible for all farmers would be helpful to allow farmers to plan what to do with their data once it’s collected, and that a framework to navigate through that process would be critical.

It was discussed that links with the supply chain have to be considered as part of that approach, and discussed that a common set of metrics shared by accreditation organisations and the Scottish Government could help businesses meet both regulatory and business requirements more easily.

Track 3

Members considered that as per the recommendations of the Arable FLG, an additional tier of work was needed to look beyond Tracks 1 and 2, and that a third, mostly focused on research should be established, primarily to know exactly where we can offset and/or mitigate emissions. This is imperative if the intention is to move towards a capital grant methodology and to develop an enabling mechanism to get to that point.


Officials attempted to summarise the views of the Board on each of the proposals:

  • there was broad support of Track 1 but a clear appetite to extend further to include animal health and biodiversity. Officials undertook to explore during the implementation phase.
  • the Livestock Data Performance Feedback Programme was also supported to include all cattle and, given the data is being drawn from ScotEID, there are no theoretical barriers to this
  • track 2 was endorsed and seen as a place to examine data co-ordination and other key issues such as building tools to inform future payments relating to sustainability rather than only conditionality
  • active livestock management was also welcomed but members want to tackle the long-term problem of underperformance, especially if piloting is about engaging all parts of the industry
  • the Capital Grants scheme is contingent on some pre-work (carbon audits being an example) – making clear why investments are being made and the intended outcome(s)
  • establishing common standards for data reporting was again broadly supported but a framework is required to ensure appropriate data collection twinned with the early upskilling of advisors to ensure delivery of quality advice
  • officials reminded the Board that there is a live consultation now on future Agriculture policy [NB: consultation closed on 17 November] and there will be another ahead of the Agri Bill. Members made reference to the importance of communicating to an already disillusioned industry that their views will be heard and that any consultation should not be a done deal.

Chair noted the desire for greater ambition and confirmed that government supported this.

National Test Programme - next steps

Chair invited officials to give an overview of what happens next once the National Test Programme is announced. 

Officials informed the Board that a small cross-functional team of policy, delivery and digital colleagues have been assembled to establish key themes ahead of implementation, which are:

  • behavioural change
  • peer-to-peer engagement
  • guidance and communications
  • data discussion
  • future Services

The National Test Programme is a starting point and, as such, will need some help from industry on co-design elements, particularly if it’s voluntary, and workshops and testing will to follow. There’s no doubt that the Government need to scale up with different skills and more people, working across multiple different business partners (e.g. NatureScot, ScotEID). This collaborative approach will ensure a user journey that is pragmatically designed to work and the aim is to have twin tracks up and running by Spring 2022.

Officials acknowledged that work up to this point had necessarily been inward-focused and officials will be reaching out to industry partners, with data work being the immediate priority.

The Board welcomed this approach, particularly the meaningful co-design, face-to-face with farmers, on site visits and working together. However, some of the language used by officials when communicating with farmers was considered impenetrable and therefore more likely to deter engagement, and that to build a constructive working relationship with the industry, a review of terminology is essential.

Communications strategy

This paper was for information only, but Chair asked for any substantive comments from members.

There was broad agreement amongst members that the language comes across as negative, fails to provide reassurance to the industry, and could be much more upbeat about the industry’s capacity to meet the challenges that lie ahead. Other comments included a lack of overall vision beyond COP26, key messages and timeline, as well as usage of “their” rather than “our”. It was also raised that we should consider that the intended audience are mostly food producers and business owners, and therefore not solely focus the messaging on environmental benefits, being mindful that people have different values orientations.

Chair sought to reassure members that this constitutes the immediate-term comms plan, and a more detailed comms and engagement discussion has been tabled for the next Board meeting (25 November).

It was discussed that bringing in retailers and suppliers at this early stage could enhance a joined-up approach and ensure consistency of messages. Members noted that they themselves had a role to play in promoting the message, but agreed it would be helpful to have access to a crib sheet of lines for sharing information about the work of the Board to members of the public, and an action point was taken.


Finally, a request was made for further information on methane inhibitors and an action point was taken.

In closing the meeting, Chair thanked everyone for attending and advised members that the meeting of the ARIOB on 11 November has been cancelled due to a diary clash, so the next meeting will take place on Thursday 25 November at 9:00am.

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