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 members to the eleventh meeting of the Agriculture Reform Implementation Oversight Board, thanking everyone again for joining and their contribution to the work to date, and noting that it is a particularly busy time for farmers and crofters.
Following confirmation of apologies, Co-chair supported Chair’s comments, and expressed satisfaction at how work was progressing, and welcoming the opportunity to hear more about it at the meeting.
Minutes of previous meeting
As per previous meetings, Chair invited members to submit any required changes to the Minutes of 28 March to the Secretariat via email. No substantive issues were raised at this point.
Chair then drew members’ attention to the Highlight Report which was included in their package of papers, but noted that this was for information only and not part of today’s tabled papers for discussion.
In relation to the Highlight Report’s statement that names for the Tracks have been agreed, a request was made to add the word “productive” to Track 1’s name, so that it would now read: “Preparing for productive sustainable farming” and Co-chair concurred that productive, in this context, should mean not simply producing more but being more efficient with direct linkages to emissions reductions, so should be added in future.
Update from the Animal Health and Welfare Working Group
Having met twice, the Group now sought a steer from the Board on two points around scope and whether the Group should focus their efforts on:
- ruminants only, or include pigs and poultry
- reducing carbon emissions, or take a broader view including animal welfare and sustainable communities. It was noted here that the promotion of better animal welfare does not automatically mean lower emissions
The Group also advised they had been considering a two strand approach and sought ARIOB instruction as to whether to tackle both simultaneously, or to prioritise one over the other, noting that whichever approach is adopted, engagement with veterinarians will be critical and that the Group is led by and contains veterinary representation:
- strand 1: enhanced work: promotion of formal data collection and recording, vaccination programmes, biosecurity at farm level and animal welfare plans
- strand 2: individual diseases – targeting of specific disease(s) at farm level but with a scope to push out to regional/national level, with incentives in a similar manner of Scotland’s BVD eradication scheme
Across the Board, there were views expressed which supported all options set out. A compromise position was offered that while ruminants may be front and centre of any such campaign, it should be possible to factor in other sectors in a way that won’t divert valuable resources and compromise the aims of emissions reductions within the ruminant sector. For example, this could be woven into animal health and welfare plans as a cost effective way to give businesses a benchmark, especially for those less enthused.
It was opined that such a broad approach would, in theory, bring about the widest range of possible benefits – noting that in terms of buy-in and public perception, it should be more than about emissions and rather about helping the bottom lines of farmers and crofters. The point was made though that without significant effort directed at ruminant emissions, the industry would be criticised for not meeting emissions targets.
All agreed however, that ultimately, objectives must be made clear from the outset to deliver maximum output, and that in order to see demonstrable progress in the tackling of disease, farmers will require support in relation to antibiotics and diagnostic tools.
Co-chair agreed on the need to be ambitious and with the aforementioned position of prioritising ruminants but taking others on-board with a view to yielding cross-sector benefits.
Co-chair asked whether there had been any progress on standardised plans and the Group representative confirmed that SG officials are currently working on these as the agreed way forward and they will be one of the first finalised pillars of this work.
Chair agreed that while emissions reductions are the primary objective, carrying this out in broad terms while not compromising resources or results should be considered.
The Group representative was content that what had been discussed tied in with the Group’s own thinking, which did identify that the best approach, and the one most likely to secure uptake, would be to identify win/wins across the board by tackling the diseases that can be treated and the availability and effectiveness of diagnostic tools and vaccines to do this. The Group will consider the Board’s helpful comments and revert at next meeting.
Following on from the ARIOB meeting on 4 March when the draft Framework was described to the Board, and following the constructive input from NFU Scotland, SE Link, and other attendees, officials undertook to rework the Framework to incorporate the suggestions made and provided an update to the Board.
Officials reminded the Board that the Framework presentation on 4 March was a proposed model to deliver the Vision for Agriculture in a flexible way, allowing for stakeholder input and Ministerial adaptation. That co-development approach will be key to delivering the finished product and in the time since officials have taken comments to aid its development from the ARIOB, Agriculture Policy Development Group (APDG) and other partners.
The updated paper is intended to flesh out the current architecture further, including framing points where the APDG reached consensus. Specific details within agreed points of principle are not set in stone and will require continued feedback – both through ARIOB meetings and forthcoming formal consultation to capture broader public opinion.
The updated Framework is set in the context that has elective schemes which will deliver the Vision, a Just Transition, a people development scheme, capital grant scheme etc. The general point of principle is that there will be a need to develop a “whole farm plan” which is robust but proportionate, and might include, for example, a declaration of fair work, a business plan, a declaration of restoration of nature etc. There will be a focus on CPD, tying into the core messages of rewarding good practice and allowing for contractual elements of support to align with the wider SG skills agenda.
Learning was taken from the NFUS proposals around using active hectares as a building block, however, care will have to be taken to ensure that this doesn’t lock in a disincentive to land-use change and that farmers, looking to change the use of their active land, will be able to do so. The definition of “activity” will be part of the co-development process.
The new payment models will be made clear with agreement on a single payment rate based on simplification with a cap applied at BPR, and the removal of the need for ANC / LFASS successors. The consultation will outline how the proposed new direct payment models (basic and enhanced), along with people development, capital grants and a raft of elective schemes, will better deliver the Vision, ensuring it delivers a Just Transition. Aligned to this, there is a SG commitment on ensuring equality of succession, and officials will be looking to make sure that is reflected in this work without the need for further regulation.
Entitlements will also be re-clarified as no more than tokens allowing for active users to make a claim for public support.
A view was expressed that the updated Framework remains retrogressive and has the potential to lock in long-term inertia, where people with most land will get most payments and would continue to drive people towards overstocking. The proposals, it was opined, would not deliver climate and nature benefits, and would apply public money where the market would itself take care of the situation.
Officials responded that the SG is committed to ensuring some form of support remains for producers through the transitional period by way of frontloading, but attempted to provide reassurance by re-stating that the base rate of payments would be capped. They also said that the specific details are still to be confirmed via meaningful co-development, always keeping in mind the need to deliver the Vision’s intended outcomes.
Co-chair agreed that the current scheme is imperfect, but the crucial thing is to get everyone involved, particularly smaller farmers and crofters, so front-loading is a mechanism to do this. He reminded members that this is a seismic shift for farmers, and stressed that, particularly in light of current events, food production is of paramount importance so the focus should be on bringing farmers and crofters on board.
The Whole Farm Plan (WFP) was widely welcomed on the proviso that it and its component parts are proportionate and workable, making it as straightforward as possible for applicants and minimising bureaucracy or reliance on external consultants. Members were in agreement that investment in knowledge transfer and change will be hugely important in the success of WFP and there are obvious linkages with the climate-smart planning.
There was some discussion over what will be deemed conditional and whether there was a need to build in a test as to what transitional support will be needed to move towards the Vision’s outcomes. Officials reminded the Board that regenerative, sustainable, productive agriculture underpins the Vision and any conditions – both within base and enhanced levels - will help progress towards delivery of that Vision. The elective elements are included for more contractually niche schemes and Track 2 work will tease out where conditionality is most impactful/deliverable.
To assist reaching a resolution to the ongoing question of what is meant by “regenerative” and “sustainable” agriculture, the Chair of the Academic Advisory Panel (AAP) proposed the AAP take the matter away for discussion. He suggested that the Panel could help scope the indicators and outcomes, and that the latest science could help clarify those, helping to develop conditionality. Chair agreed and an action point was taken.
Clarity was sought on whether ARIOB would have time to ratify the final proposals given the timetable set out by officials for the forthcoming Agricultural Bill and the requisite consultation. Officials advised that while ARIOB will be heavily involved in the co-development of the proposals and play a key role in shaping them, it is for Scottish Ministers to make final decisions of legislative matters in accordance with affordability as outlined in the Scottish Public Finance Manual.
SE LINK Proposals
Chair flagged SE LINK paper which builds on its earlier presentation at the ARIOB meeting on 4 March. This paper is intended to connect future farm support with the recently-published Vision for agriculture as well as the current CAP objectives, and with the earlier draft of the Framework. It was agreed that officials would set-up a separate meeting to discuss SE LINK’s proposals in the context of the revised draft Framework and an action point was taken.
Chair introduced this item referencing the Board’s request at an earlier meeting to see biodiversity measures introduced as part of the National Test Programme.
Officials provided an overview of what the Scottish Government is doing to improve biodiversity, setting out that we are approaching a tipping point, and that we need nature to mitigate the effects of climate change while simultaneously managing climate change to help nature.
However, the SG believes that nature-based solutions can deliver at least 30% of its Net Zero targets. As was discussed under the previous item, the evidence shows the benefit of a collaborative process – a logical way to progress from strategy to delivery in the context of biodiversity..
An overview of the 3 steps with regard to the process for developing the forthcoming Scottish Biodiversity Strategy was set out. The Strategy aims to end biodiversity loss by 2030 and regenerate biodiversity by 2045:
- step 1: Vision/Outcomes and Priority Actions: including drafting advisory paper and engagement with advisory bodies and external stakeholders
- step 2: Conditions for Success/governance outcomes: including a series of workshops and refining conditions;
- step 3: Bringing it all together: including final refinement, creation of consultation document and testing with stakeholder group
Thereafter will follow the consultation itself with a view to publishing a final strategy by autumn 2022 all while being aligned to the Vision for Agriculture.
The Board welcomed the transparency and engagement of the process, as well as the clear intention to integrate policies across agriculture and biodiversity. Members also noted the alignment with the Vision, reflective of the Just Transition Commission’s emphasis on broader policy imperatives and not leaving people behind through the transitional period.
It was raised that there should be a tri-focus of communities, economic incentives and ecosystem markets, which would help incentivise the move to regenerative agriculture. The SG has published interim principles for responsible investment in natural capital and these will be consulted on shortly - key to that is not just reductions in carbon emissions but biodiversity, local communities and the economy.
The Agri-Environment Climate Scheme (AECS) was referenced as an example of a scheme that was perhaps too prescriptive and lacks literacy, in other words not assisting users to understand the benefits of undertaking such practices. As has been previously discussed, there was an overwhelming view that giving respective farmers and crofters decision-making powers on how to reach the clear, intended outcomes, and as appropriate for their business, is the best mechanism to deliver. NatureScot’s Nature Restoration Fund was offered as an example of doing this in such a way to promote creativity within the industry. It was agreed that it was important that current good practice is recognised as well as encouraging those yet to begin theirs. Officials confirmed that good practice will be recognised and encouraged in the detail of the proposed enhanced payments tier of the Framework.
It was raised that we need to consider how to integrate tackling the climate and biodiversity challenges with our need for food security, and that the Board may benefit from a better understanding of the SG policy objective in relation to food production and how that ties into its policy on land use change.
Co-chair said a reality-check was needed around food production and food security, and outlined the difficulties in relation to rising costs impacting ability to continue farming faced by many members of his organisation. He said that the forthcoming Agriculture Bill needs to focus primarily on ensuring food security or there will be no industry to deliver the other outcomes (climate change and biodiversity restoration). Others opined that all three outcomes: biodiversity, climate and food security, are equally interdependent and one should not be prioritised over the other. A balance that delivers win/win/win needs to be sought.
There being a predominant view in the Board that there should be a future discussion on ensuring food security, Chair agreed that a future ARIOB meeting focus on this and Scotland’s Good Food Nation policy and an action point was taken.
Before opening the floor to AOB, Chair informed members that the next meeting of the ARIOB is intended to focus on the future Agricultural Bill. Officials noted that it may be necessary to have an interim ARIOB to help develop the consultation questions and advised they would be contacting the ARIOB about this process shortly. In addition, the Academic Advisory Panel will be providing an update on its work.
Finally, Co-chair reiterated the benefits of the March in-person gathering and proposed another which was agreed as an action.
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