Agriculture Reform Implementation Oversight Board minutes: 28 March 2022

Minutes from the meeting of the Agriculture Reform Implementation Oversight Board, held on 28 March 2022.

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 tenth meeting of the Agriculture Reform Implementation Oversight Board and thanked everyone for attending the meeting of 4 March. The all-day session had provided an excellent opportunity to discuss many issues in depth. Chair advised that today’s meeting is shorter than usual and has been arranged to provide an update on Tracks 1 and 2 and the Communications Strategy prior to the next substantive meeting scheduled for 21 April.

At this point George Burgess, newly appointed Interim Director of ARE, was introduced to the board.

Co-chair echoed Chair’s welcome, stressing the need for regular meetings and updates to maintain progress and re-iterating how beneficial it was to have had the face-to-face meeting in Perth. Formation of the Animal Health and Welfare sub-group was cited as one example of the positive outcomes from that meeting that may otherwise not have occurred, and he suggested that consideration be given to holding more meetings in person.

Minutes of previous meeting

With reference to the CAP Payment Analysis presentation, concern had been expressed that basing payments received analysis on farms of an area greater than 250 was perhaps not sufficiently specific. It was suggested that if this type of analysis was to be a key indicator in the future, data should also be available for farms of 500 ha and above. An action was taken for officials to investigate further if the data could be broken down as suggested.

The opportunity was taken to formally acknowledge the quality of the minute taken on the 4 March, which was particularly helpful for those members who joined online and did not have the benefit of continuous access to the discussions.

In light of the shorter than normal meeting time, Chair proposed that as no further substantive issues had been raised, any additional comments members may wish to make be submitted by email to the Secretariat.

Tracks 1 and 2 progress update

Officials were invited to present an update on the progress of Tracks 1 and 2 of the National Test Programme (NTP).

Track 1

  • a process for soil analysis has now been finalised that takes into account the differences between traditional soil sampling and precision farming techniques
  • impact assessments have been initiated and a Digital Scotland Assessment successfully completed
  • costs for Continuous Professional Development have been signed off
  • preparation of Guidance is under development and progressing well
  • previous comments around carbon testing had been noted and a review is underway with experts as to the suitability of Loss on Ignition or Dumas methodology
  • ScotEID have demonstrated the Livestock Performance Plans and these are on track for delivery in May (2022)

Animal Health and Welfare (AHW) sub-group

At this juncture, an update was provided on the Sub-Group’s work:

  • although AHW planning is a good concept it currently does not appear to be achieving practical benefits. If AHW plans are to be part of conditionality, then follow up actions also need to be stipulated
  • before implementing AHWP it is necessary to be aware of what the issues really are within the industry and the different sectors within it
  • for data collection, it had been proposed that a standardised template should be developed which would, in turn, link up to a government database in the future
  • the focus should be on all livestock, not just cattle
  • the approach should look at both farm level issues and national issues, and in this respect it would be preferable to tackle the big problem diseases first
  • Dr. Philip Skuce had provided various relevant and helpful papers for consideration
  • it was suggested that the AHW sub-group should work alongside other groups, such as the Ruminant Health Group and Livestock Health Scotland, to avoid duplication of effort

In parallel with the AHW recommendation for standardisation, comment was made about the importance of standardisation in other areas such as soil analysis, ensuring consistent data collection across Scotland.

Track 2

Officials provided an overview of the approach to Track 2, highlighting the two key phases. Phase one will centre on bringing on board participants and learning from them. This will include receiving continual feedback – from inception - to understand where they are, what they need and uncover any barriers to progression.

Phase two will be about going out to participants and undertaking actions on the ground with a further opportunity to feedback as part of a final survey. Government is keen to ensure that in applying these actions they will assist in delivering positive outcomes to businesses as well as the environment. In addition:

  • work continues on Track 2 in background, focusing on its aims and how they fit with the draft Framework and Farmer-led Group recommendations
  • the timeline is also being developed and discussions with farmers and crofters continue to finalise the 1500 participant cohort, ensuring it is truly representative and maximises learning
  • on the participants, they will be geographically spread and representative of agriculture across Scotland. A section of those selected will be stratified but there will be people chosen on a more random basis, to hopefully include farmers and crofters who aren’t regular Scottish Government customers and crate a robust sample of businesses
  • it will take years to monitor the effectiveness of actions but it will all be evidence-based and regular monitoring by scoring outcomes via a matrix combined with the live experiences of participants
  • as was pointed out at the last meeting, the promotion of farmer choice will be offered through a menu or range of options. This will enable respective farmers and crofters to make future decisions on a scale of their own ambitions
  • finally, on next steps, officials are finalising Track 1 participant selection and preparing internal processes including questionnaires and communications documents to ensure clear messaging to both participants and the wider farming community

The Chief Scientific Adviser (CSA) reminded the board that the Academic Advisory Panel (AAP) are happy to input on science related topics for the benefit of members. He added that there is value in considering longer term change detection and key assets like soil. What we learn from Track 1 going into Track 2 should assist in creating a database to help soils in the long-term and such digital support will be critical in assisting this work in future.


Members warmly welcomed the update on the NTP.

The topic of advisory services for farmers during the process was acknowledged but there should be an equal focus on peer-to-peer learning as most farmers learn from each other.

In addition, it was argued that there is an opportunity to frame the new measures as a means to become both more resilient as a business, and greener into the bargain, rather than treating those ambitions as separate entities. 

The board were keen to remind officials that the burden on farmers should be as limited as possible and, as such, implementing actions should not become onerous in a way that farmers have to rely on agents. The Nature Restoration Fund was cited as an example, and officials agreed that they will pick up with NatureScot colleagues.

One member enquired as to whether the board could obtain a participant sampling breakdown to ensure there are no gaps, pointing to the need for crofting representatives in the northwest, Western Isles and west coast. Officials advised that after the first tranche of recruitment there will be a further targeted round to encapsulate as many interests as possible.

A point was made that LFASS areas contain more SSSIs than the rest of the UK combined, and that there are thousands of acres which are marginalised and could be restored, but these issues have not featured in the board’s discussions. A request was made to put peatland restoration and LFASS areas with high environmental designations on future agendas.

Ahead of the Comms update, the board noted the importance of clear communications, offering the services of organisations represented by board members – particularly as this may help in engagement and participation amongst those harder to reach stakeholders. Chairs and officials agreed to collaborate in this way and an action point was taken.

Communications and engagement

In terms of external comms around the NTP, the focus is on who, how and when. While the Track 1 comms plan is naturally further developed than Track 2, officials are thinking in the context of the Vision and the NTP as a whole, particularly given the natural Track 1/Track 2 overlap.

The additional key message is to demonstrate that the Vision for Agriculture is the first step towards CAP replacement via collaboration and co-design with everyone with an interest.

It was outlined that the comms for each Track will have a specific focus:

  • track 1: “we’re helping you futureproof your farm and everyone is eligible”;
  • track 2: “ you’re helping us futureproof farming through a cohort of selected farmers and crofters”, followed by an emphasis on the wider strategy and an explainer of the intended mechanics to deliver that.

Track 1

Very broadly, external comms for the purposes of Track 1 will aim to:

  • raise awareness of the NTP
  • ensure users know exactly what’s being asked of them and how to fulfil their obligations
  • make clear the benefits – both for business and environment
  • offer the chance to provide feedback throughout the NTP’s lifespan

As mentioned earlier, as there is no application process as such, it is hard to judge full representation, so officials will use all available tools to ensure the message is reaching as many people as possible.

Track 2

Track 2 comms objectives will be broadly similar to those listed above but will be geared to the sector as a whole, ensuring it is understood what is meant by a representative sample. It needs to be a meaningful sample so that the widest possible range of voices are heard. Thereafter, anyone invited to apply expects it; knows what to do; and, crucially, knows how to find immediate guidance and support.

Comms channels will be via organisations that people trust, including those represented on the ARIOB, or connected to those organisations, per members’ offers to assist. In addition, internal comms are being stepped up with RPID area office staff becoming familiar with what Track 1 entails. This will be followed up with spreading the word at agriculture shows and marts through the Summer.

The type of content that comms colleagues will use and how was covered, displaying time stamps for the next few weeks, including the scheduled launch date on 25 April and a placeholder for the intended payment date which is yet to be confirmed.

Co-chair signalled he was pleased to see the comms strategy come into play at this stage. He welcomed the inclusion of the FLG recommendations in developing the NTP, and stressed the importance of emphasising this fact to the industry. The board agreed that this was key to success, and suggested that the terminology around sustainable businesses should be linked to how the FLGs defined them.

A request was made to see the list of organisations to be targeted as it was noted that the ARIOB members could provide advice on this.

AOB and date of next meeting

Chair thanked everyone for their time and looked forward to the next substantive meeting of the board on 21 April.

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