Agriculture Reform Implementation Oversight Board minutes: 15 December 2022

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 15 December 2022.

Attendees and apologies


  • Mairi Gougeon, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands 
  • Martin Kennedy, President, National Farmers Union

Items and actions


The Cabinet Secretary welcomed all to the meeting. Noted comments regarding previous minutes. Agreed that will circulate answers by correspondence.

Testing for Sustainable Farming: list of publishable measures and Testing for Sustainable Farming: proposed communications approach

Items 2 and 3 were taken together.

Explanation of communications approach provided by officials:

  • Scottish Government is planning for an early January announcement of Phase 2a user testing
  • this will involve 60 participants testing out a detailed list of measures
  • part of that communications piece will include a commitment to publish the summary list of measures in mid-February
  • please note, this is not intended to be a large communications piece given the small participant numbers, rather than an article on Scottish Government website
  • mid-February - publish list of measures with supplementary communication
  • this will be done alongside a routemap for the high-level delivery of the whole of the Agriculture Reform Programme, setting out the overall timeframes

General initial comments from Agriculture Reform Implementation Oversight Board (ARIOB) members:

User testing approach:

  • most farmers know what's on their farm and croft (cultivated fields; uncultivated features i.e., hedgerows, field margins; permanent habitat on farm i.e. peatland, forestry; specific species targets) and will be best placed to know what they have to or want to introduce, that will lead people to the required package of measures
  • in the farm context, any decision about what the farmer does is particular to the farmer and cannot be prescriptive

Officials provided a presentation on summary list of measures:

  • officials explained the thinking behind the format, that the PDF provides a way to visualise the spreadsheet, so the seven tiles correlate to habitats and systems
  • people can then pick a tile e.g. dairy/choose the habitat/system/choose the outcomes/find packages/ and see the measures
  • for the testing, this process will be followed with the 60 farmer cohort using interviews
  • it will include a spread of farmers who already do a lot of the measures and farmers who do few or none with the aim of understanding barriers, links between measures and outcomes and the tools and support they will need
  • as part of the testing, we will also consider the language used and examine the uptake of plans/audits and farmers’ understanding of the measures

General comments from ARIOB members:

  • members had a number of outstanding questions including: how many measures should a farmer be expected to do?
  • if a farmer is already doing the measure, should they select it?
  • what is the cost of implementation?
  • farmers will want to know the answers to these above questions
  • officials responded that answers to these issues are emerging but there is still work on refining these proposals before certainty can be given

The below questions were presented by officials for discussion. The discussion amongst ARIOB members was extensive and free flowing and did not follow these questions in sequence, but this note has been written by grouping the points under each of these questions themes and adding a final section for other points to provide an overall summary of the discussion.

Do you believe publishing the summary set of measures is an appropriate step to reassure the industry?

  • most ARIOB members agreed that information is required for the sector, but many felt more detail is needed to give the industry clarity
  • some members proposed that the full spreadsheet is published instead of the summary because the industry know that change is coming but don't know the shape or the implications
  • farmers will want to know what the benefit is for them and if it does have benefit, they will do, some members felt that the longer it takes to provide the detail, the more risk there is of losing momentum and farmers’ willingness to act
  • officials clarified that details of final proposals are not yet ready to share, these are simply the measures to be tested and may not be the final list of what is included in Enhanced
  • the purpose of publishing the summary is to show the themes that will be included. For example, biodiversity measures may stay consistent, but livestock measures might vary a bit
  • other ARIOB members noted that if only some of the proposals were to be made public there was a risk of causing confusion if much more comes down the line
  • officials also set out the intention to publish a routemap setting out the timeframes of the whole Agricultural Reform Programme.
  • although this would not provide clear answers at this stage, it would allow farmers to clearly see when decisions will be taken by, placing this work in the context of a complex long-term programme

Summary - ARIOB would like more detail to be provided to the industry and it should be accompanied by clear comms. A clear policy steer on the detail of enhanced tier and how the measures will be used (e.g., how many do I pick). The measures can be published with a caveat that further refinement will be needed in the future.

What content changes are required on the measures prior to publication?

  • officials and members expressed general agreement that some of the livestock measures currently removed amount to 40% of abatement potential and that these should be put back
  • however, it was recognised that more clarity was required on how they would be achieved and be ambitious although there was acknowledgement that the measures were not achievable or currently permissible as set out
  • some members raised a concern that livestock farmers will dismiss the list because targeted species management has a whole list of species but only three actions and asked if more were to be added
  • the actions are based on habitat, which farmers understand well for their land, rather than species and more detail for each habitat would achieve a lot before you need specific actions, and it was acknowledged that this would come into future Agriculture Environmental Climate Scheme
  • officials noted that if there are measures that appear to be missing, these should be highlighted - capital costs are a criterion, so some measures have been removed where they carry high costs. Impacts on production targets haven't been modelled yet against production impacts but would potentially look to do this when modelling the enhanced support options
  • a suggestion was made that horticulture and fruit need to be more included and some concern that the Farmer Led Group measures need further sense checking
  • use of GPS and N inhibitors had been discussed at previous ARIOB meetings with an ask to consider including these
  • members would like to understand more the rationale for inclusions or exclusions
  • a comment was made that the suite of measures could be improved by creating ways to add things like knowledge transfer, coaching, changing mentality

Summary - ARIOB would like the measures to be wider and encompassing, ensuring there is something for all sectors. In addition, they would like the Farmer Led Groups reports to be referred to and the actions cross referenced, and sense checked with experts. There was no clear consensus on the inclusion of other challenging CXC MACC livestock measures.

What presentational changes are required on the measures prior to publication?

  • comms is important and people need to know what is going to be available for 2025 in plenty of time and if it is a summary list of measures that is published then farmers need to know that further details will be available further down the line
  • some ARIOB members felt it was important that everybody sees all measures available, and you can make it clear that it is the first round only and that other measures tested / produced later at the appropriate times
  • there was a feeling that providing people with a sense of scale would be helpful, for example what sort of improvement will have the biggest impact and most enhance the financial support available
  • members were generally of the view that farmers are frustrated with the perceived lack of clarity and delays.
  • there was acknowledgement of the process of co-design taking time but also frustration with the time things are taking to do and a risk that farmers will be underwhelmed and feel the summary lacks ambition with the publication of a summary list
  • the main source for these measures are Farmer Led Groups reports and Climate XChange reports, further consideration may be needed about emphasising those measures with the highest impact for outcomes and funding Comms needs to show the industry what farmers will be expected to do
  • if an integration of the measures are made public, even without the detail, then people will at least get an idea of what they're to do and have a chance to think about it
  • one member noted that in their view the opposite has happened in England and people aren't getting on board, more information is needed for the industry
  • officials noted that this was a small step to deliver intensive user testing to 60 people as a start.

Once there is more certainty and evidence to support what is being taken forward more knowledge sharing and demonstrations are planned.

  • in terms of the way the information is being presented there was consensus amongst members that the presentation style is helpful, clear, and good to share with industry.
  • members found the graphics particularly helpful but highlighted need to keep plain English for both public comms and ARIOB, not include words people won’t respond to and be careful around language e.g. to avoid mistakes such as ‘sheep herds’ instead of ‘sheep flock’
  • members were keen that the comms looks across all tiers and wider framework and everything is sense checked i.e., including linkages and interdependencies to create a coherent narrative across all 4 tiers

Summary - ARIOB were supportive of the visual presentation especially in webpage format but felt more plain English was needed and some terms should be tightened up.

How should we contextualise the measures in the context of the Future Support Framework?

  • members indicated they would be keen to see the impact modelling at different levels of uptake
  • also noted they believed that Tier 2 was "super greening" where farmers had to do a certain number of things to release the second half of their payment, but this looks like a list of things you can do to get money
  • members felt if Tier 2 was introduced with no information about Tier 1 baselining there will be concern and confusion as enhanced needs to be contextualised
  • officials set out they are creating a route map to be published that will place this work within the overall context of timeframes for the whole programme from both an administrative and farmer perspective.
  • members felt there was still have lack of clarity between high level vision and framework and how the different components fit together with ongoing differing views on what Tier 2 will deliver
  • the felt there is a need to produce more comprehensive expression of what framework will do and have a clearer expression of how the different tiers will work
  • members felt co-development could go wider than ARIOB. Whilst there was also acknowledgment that a wider feedback exercise would add to the workload there was also a view that it could support a constructive discussion

Summary - ARIOB members wanted Enhanced to be contextualised in relation to other tiers and wider reform and wanted to find a way to make the publishing of the measures more co-designed with the whole industry.

Additional points made in the discussion:

  • one member felt Scotland’s lead on decarbonising has been lost and this was an opportunity to get back on track
  • one member noted that while it was good to see agro-forestry represented much of what is needed is system-level changes, not practice-level changes and it wasn’t clear from the activity in the Programme where that was being addressed
  • in the discussion it was also highlighted that the Climate Change Committee recommend reducing meat consumption, it’s not clear how those fits in the programme
  • it was noted that the CCC’s specific recommendation on reducing meat consumption has not been accepted by the Scottish Government that instead they will commit to promoting healthy eating but not go beyond that
  • one member noted that how the budget was divided across the tiers would be important

Any other business and next meeting 3 February 2023 in Dundee

The date of the next meeting was noted, and the meeting was closed.

Summary of actions:

  • we will contextualise the measures in the wider framework to aid communications
  • officials will reflect on the key points made at this meeting in the development of advice
  • cross reference measures to Farmer Led Group reports
  • review language in proposed communications
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