Attendees and apologies
- Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands
- Martin Kennedy
Items and actions
Welcome and introductions
The Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands welcomed members to this interim ARIOB to hear the latest developments on Track 2 work, and noted that while it is a particularly busy time for farmers and crofters it was hoped that today’s updates will prove helpful to those in attendance. She confirmed that per previous correspondence, the planned discussion on the future Agriculture Bill consultation had been deferred to the next full ARIOB on 15 June.
Co-chair also welcomed the Board, emphasising the importance of members being kept abreast of Track 2 work.
Track 2 work
By way of introduction, Chair reminded the Board that the broad aim of Track 2, ‘Testing Actions for Sustainable Farming’, is about identifying appropriate conditionality and developing the evidence base to underpin that. Officials recapped the proposal, overall approach and two-phased approach to Track 2 as outlined to the Board at the in-person meeting in March.
Phase 1 will go live this Summer and its primary objective is to develop and test actions that may become a condition of future support, using data and metrics to measure delivery. This phase will initially support the enhanced elements of the proposed approach.
Phase 1 will also focus on user research to gain a broader understanding of environmental issues, the Academic Advisory Panel (AAP) have provided support by reviewing the methodology to identify participants. Part of that data gathering will begin shortly by asking participants to complete (and receive a payment for) an online questionnaire which will help inform the next phase, refining a menu of options for farmers and crofters. Government would like to hear from farmers and crofters on what plans and audits they have carried out to get an idea of their motivations as well as barriers to completion. The questionnaire will be user-friendly, device compatible and use “branching” to ensure questions are relevant to individual respondents. It will cover a range of topics, including:
- nutrient management plans
- carbon audits
- animal health and welfare
- breeding and marketing plans
- feed ration plans
On recruitment, SG has an ambitious stated aim of recruiting up to 1500 participants and it is hoped this will be achieved in two tranches. The first of these will consist of a representative sample of people who have engaged with SG previously. Following that, a more targeted campaign will be aimed at those who get in touch asking to participate, as well as key groups that may be underrepresented as part of the first tranche.
Moving to Phase 2, this will centre around defining the actions by completing the first review of work carried out in Phase 1 as well as examining a range of research and report recommendations, including those of the Farmers-led Groups. Officials are compiling a consolidated list of potential conditional measures against intended criteria and outcomes, again, as brought to the board on 4 March.
With regard to designing the final approach, it will reflect the invaluable feedback from ARIOB and the Agriculture Policy Development Group (APDG), for example, promoting farmer choice, a flat rate payment system, assisting “change makers” and being aware of geographical differences.
Communications and engagement
Clearly, continued communication will be fundamental to raising awareness of the Programme, particularly around questionnaire completion. Officials confirmed that key to the success of the project will be putting into practice lessons learned from Track 1 which includes early stakeholder engagement, particularly with those with influential voices, to refine messaging, as well as early engagement with area office staff in real-time to build support mechanisms to get as many people on board as possible.
Comms colleagues will utilise a mix of social and traditional media, mindful of the wide geographical spread of potential participants coupled with the need to reach a truly representative sample. User research has pointed to the Scottish Farmer and Facebook groups as being the main avenues for getting the message out effectively and ensuring SG receives feedback throughout the process.
The fundamental message will be to help farmers and crofters better understand not only the National Test Programme (NTP) itself and their role in the co-design of it, but the link between the Programme and our desired climate and nature outcomes, particularly for those who aren’t as far along the sustainability journey. The NTP is one step towards CAP replacement and this Summer’s consultation will help complement that. Comms colleagues will reinforce the message to check inboxes and be a part of the pilots.
The comms approach will also make clear that Track 2 aims to:
- build on track 1
- shape the future by bringing everyone along, at every stage
- test and learn throughout the process
- represent the whole sector
- be clear, simple and incentivised
Finally, it should be noted that the Livestock Performance Programme will also be part of Track 2 and aims to recruit 40 farmers across Scotland to utilise technical advice to improve productivity. Recruitment of beef businesses will begin in earnest and officials are working alongside SAOS.
Co-Chair was keen to recognise that this work will be carried out during a busy time for the sector and noted points raised by members in relation to target response rates and on-farm businesses with poor or no internet connectivity, predominantly thinking of older farmers and crofters.
In relation to a target response rate it is hoped that the associated comms push with yield higher returns that would be average for this type of engagement. Officials are also conscious of the busy period and will attempt to ensure the comms approach takes that into account. Indeed, the questionnaire has been designed not to be overly onerous while still being able to obtain meaningful feedback. Officials attempted to reassure members on the connectivity issue that Government is considering how best to support those people with a view to providing area office support in individual cases. Knowledge and advice will play a huge part for all involved in the programme, particularly when Government attempts to engage those less receptive.
The Board offered further views on the questionnaire with one member opining that it was perhaps lacking in capturing behavioural change. Officials advised that they will work closely with social researchers to ensure qualitative as well as quantitative data is captured.
Co-chair mentioned that the potential menu of options mentioned earlier shouldn’t become a charter for consultants or agents. Related to that, he asked whether the options will be weighted in terms of environmental benefits, hoping to avoid a repeat of LMOs where there were far fewer options. Officials responded that this will be part and parcel of the co-design approach and the draft options will continue to be reviewed and refined throughout the phases to avoid prescription. There will be a robust testing stage and entirely possible that the menu of options will involve some kind of scalable weighting.
Moving on to participant numbers, a similar scheme in England was referenced as to having fewer volunteers than hoped for and whether a similar outcome in Scotland could skew any results. Officials confirmed that they had liaised with Defra counterparts and remain relaxed should the target number not be met and it wouldn’t impact on learning or co-design with only perception perhaps being a factor.
In terms of representation, officials made clear that earlier geographical and sectoral gaps were based on very early user research so both have been addressed. To ensure transparency, while volunteers won’t automatically be signed up, enquiries will be acknowledged and reason given as to why they haven’t been selected (sector overrepresentation, for example).
In relation to a query on fruit and veg sectoral representation, it was confirmed that specialist horticulture will be included in a sample of participants.
On the topic of the Livestock Performance Programme, one member hoped for acknowledgment of dairy herds, particularly as they account for one third of beef production.
Another member was concerned that there was a lack of suitable options for the arable sector and officials confirmed that the ARIOB will be able to provide feedback on the refined list.
A plea was again made to the word “productive” to the phrase “Preparing for sustainable farming” which was supported by Co-chair and others.
Update on Track 1 and Agri Bill work
Officials began by thanking ARIOB for helping to spread the word on Track 1, confirming that guidance was launched on 29 April and comprehensive media engagement went ahead along with communication with key stakeholders prior to launch to enable them to support the programme through their own channels. For the next steps the focus is on the claims process for Carbon Audits and Soil Sampling and progressing on the payment process.
The Livestock Performance Programme is on track for the Livestock Farmers to access the dashboard, known as myherdstats. The website for the dashboard will go live, with the link initially being sent to a specific number of Farmers who can provide specific feedback over a number of weeks. The next step will be to open up the link to all remaining farmers with some comms being included in the overall package that is being produced for the Royal Highland Show.
First drafts have been produced for the scoping document relating to the Biodiversity Audit and the options paper associated with the audit. Over the coming weeks NatureScot and SG colleagues will work together to finalise these two documents. Animal Health and Welfare work is continuing between the Project Team and Animal Health and Welfare colleagues to produce a scoping paper.
Agriculture Bill consultation
Officials confirmed that is the SG’s intention to launch a consultation on the future Agriculture Bill late summer this year. The approach will be to consult on the powers needed by Scottish Ministers to ensure the aims within the Vision for agriculture can be delivered.
While unable to share the full draft consultation publication (based on instruction from Parliament and Legislation Unit), officials are keen to share an outline of the powers being sought and to gain the ARIOB’s input on the questions that relate to how these powers might be exercised while attempting to elicit the broadest range of responses possible. The content and meaning of questions must be informed through the co-development with ARIOB.
To do this while being mindful of tight timescales, ARIOB Board members’ assistance will be sought in writing. The final wording that goes into a published Bill consultation will be further informed by the Scottish Government’s social researchers and its legal directorate (bearing in mind legal duties on accessibility and style of language).
There was general consensus amongst the Board that it needs to receive draft documents in a timely fashion to allow for meaningful contributions. Co-chair concurred, noting the need to ensure wholesale industry buy-in and an action was taken to ensure draft consultation documents will be shared with the Board in early course.
In person ARIOB
Chair highlighted that the next in-person meeting of the ARIOB will be held on 28 July and that the Secretariat will provide further information about practical arrangements nearer the time.
In concluding the meeting, Chair reminded the Board that the next meeting of the ARIOB will take place on 15 June and will include an update from the AAP and will focus on the future Agriculture Bill.
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