Attendees and apologies
- Mairi Gougeon Cabinet Secretary Rural Affairs and Islands
- Martin Kennedy
Items and actions
Welcome and introductions
The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands (Chair) welcomed members to this shorter ARIOB meeting to hear updates on the Agriculture Bill consultation, mindful of how busy they were at this time of year. She offered her thanks to everyone who had attended the meeting of 28 July in Dunfermline and for the subsequent feedback around the conditionality options and regional modelling, noting how productive the event had been.
Co-chair also welcomed the Board, emphasising the importance of members’ feedback following the discussions at the last meeting. He stressed the importance of this work in helping to provide the industry with a sense of direction. Officials advised that they were hopeful the forthcoming Agriculture Bill consultation would help disseminate further information into the public domain and to the industry.
Officials advised that they had now looked at some of the feedback from the last meeting and of the regional modelling options discussed, Option 2 (1 region, actively farmed hectares) and Option 6 (3 region – combine and split) were favoured by some members. However, there were others who were strongly against the actively farmed hectares option. Officials will therefore seek additional advice around these options and revert to the ARIOB for further discussion. ARIOB members agreed it was critical they were closely involved and their consensus sought.
Officials noted the immediate focus will be on delivering parts of agricultural policy to deliver outcomes quickly, which will require prioritisation of work. Chair confirmed that the next substantive meeting of the Board will hone in on that.
In response to recent concerns from members, consideration is being given by officials on how improvements can be made to the operation of the Board to enhance its effectiveness. Officials reiterated that they are committed to meaningful engagement with the Board on topics important to the industry and value its collective contribution since its inception.
While noting some frustration around the perceived irrelevance of some of the presentations made to the ARIOB, Chair reminded the Board that it is useful for them to be sighted on wider issues. Some felt however that if they were to receive such briefings, these should be restricted to online meetings and that the ARIOB should help set future agendas by seeing proposed agendas and accompanying papers in sufficient time to confirm that they are content to discuss. Chair agreed that there is a balance by which the Board should be – and are - able to offer specific agenda items, but that updates on equally important, wider, linked Scottish Government (SG) work are tabled.
A point of order was raised, querying whether there would be new appointees to the Board seeing as there had been two resignations since its inception. Officials said it was important to keep membership and terms of reference under review and will revert to the Board on those in due course.
Agriculture Bill consultation finalisation
Officials thanked members for their helpful feedback on the draft consultation document earlier in the summer and confirmed some of their comments around language, linkages and flexibility as well as the ability to enhance awareness of key issues, such as food production, had been reflected in the final version.
Officials advised that the consultation document was finalised and having been approved by the Cabinet Sub Committee on Legislation, is due to launch early next week (week commencing 29 August). It will be supplemented with a number of public engagements, including high level thematic online events which will include breakout sessions. Additionally, there will be a number of roadshows across the country, including one on the islands, which will deliver a more generalist overview and the Scottish Government is working alongside the Scottish Rural Network to help deliver these.
Co-chair was keen that the Board received advanced sight of the document ahead of publication and officials said they would look into facilitating this.
Whole farm plans (WFP)
Officials acknowledged the point that there is a gap in meaning between the type of whole farm planning which many farmers undertake at the moment, and the proposals for a “whole farm plan” as part of the new system. Much more work is needed to communicate what is meant, noting that the content of a WFP needs much more working up with the ARIOB to ensure that concerns raised by the Board members around utility, scope, adaptability, validity etc are worked through. The Group held different opinions on inclusion of succession planning and health and safety plans in the proposed WFP approach, but, while noting the SG point that these were important issues to be tackled, agreed that this was why further discussion was essential. All agreed the WFP has to be verifiable and useful, rather than a tick box exercise. A point was made about going back to basics and looking at the Farmer Led Group reports which were developed by the industry.
It was felt by some that references to a whole farm plan and using examples in the consultation would be counter-productive, particularly at this very early and unformed stage, and detract focus away from the purpose of the Bill. However, officials stressed that the consultation is intended to engage people in the conversation as part of the SG co-design approach, and will be a means to promote messaging such as the commitment to ongoing income support through a base payment.
Chair confirmed an action point was taken to add whole farm plans as a future agenda item.
The need for the consultation to reach beyond the usual rural network to the wider Scottish public was stressed, given this is about using public money to support the future of farming and food production in Scotland and address the climate and nature emergencies. Chair agreed it was important not to pigeonhole the Bill as a rural issue as it will impact upon everyone in Scotland and urged members to get the word out via their organisational channels.
It was suggested that the consultation is too technical for non-industry participants and there was broad agreement on the need to dovetail between providing thorough details for those more informed and a more generalist approach to include a wider audience. Officials proposed that the summary document which ARIOB had sight of previously could be adapted, and also confirmed that the consultation process will allow for monitoring engagement and adaptation where needed. Officials would be very happy to take any suggestions on how government can improve wider stakeholder engagement as well as ARIOB members’ feedback from their stakeholder groups.
One member asked about definitions, e.g. “regenerative agriculture”. Officials referenced that there are multiple definitions and practices already in use and so rather than seek to define, will carefully note the consultation comments. Officials reiterated however that the consultation is primarily about enabling the powers to deliver on the Vision for Agriculture.
Some members flagged up that many farmers and crofters are unaware of, or are unclear about how to best take advantage of Preparing for Sustainable Farming (PSF): what the steps are; in what order; and what support is available for carbon audits and soil testing. Comms are not always reaching all people and some of the ARIOB members themselves felt insufficiently informed to be able to confidently disseminate information. Co-Chair, echoing concerns, suggested a flyer campaign to all farmers/crofters using their business reference number. Officials noted and confirmed that they will act on this feedback, and also flagged up that further messaging on carbon audits and soil testing will follow on from the consultation launch.
Any other business
National data sets
The usefulness of national data sets was raised, particularly in relation to carbon audits and soil testing, and officials agreed that this would be examined in the longer-term as part of PSF evaluation.
Next ARIOB and meetings cycle
In order to make best use of members’ time, Chair advised the Board that the Chairs have agreed that ARIOB will now meet every other month. This is intended to allow officials time to ensure that what is put to the Board for discussion and decision is substantive and worthwhile and is of course cognisant of other priorities which members have.
Therefore, the next meeting will be an in-person meeting in late October/ early November with a final date and venue to be confirmed in due course.
Chair reassured the Board that there will not be an information vacuum between meetings, and that the Secretariat will continue to provide a monthly Highlight Report to keep it sighted on developments and, as ever, will be happy to take comments from members in the intervening periods. Ad-hoc meetings will be considered.
Chair emphasised the need to continue dialogue on these issues and will ensure points raised today will be included in future discussions. Chair thanked everyone again for attending and looked forward to seeing them in person at the next meeting of the Board (date to be confirmed).
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