Publication - Minutes

ARD Stakeholder Group minutes: March 2021

Published: 28 Oct 2021
Date of meeting: 18 Mar 2021
Date of next meeting: 20 May 2021

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 18 March 2021.

Published:
28 Oct 2021
ARD Stakeholder Group minutes: March 2021

Attendees and apologies

Attendees

  • Maria De La Torre, Nature Scot
  • Jamie Farquhar, Confederation of Forest Industries
  • Chris McVey, RSABI
  • Johnny Hall, NFUS
  • John Raven, Historic Environment Scotland
  • Tim Bailey, SAOS
  • Steven Thomson, SRUC
  • Serafin Pazos-Vidal, COSLA
  • Ross Macleod, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust
  • Paul Flanagan, Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board
  • Nina Clancy, RSABI
  • Neil, IAAS
  • Martin Morgan, Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers
  • J Bryans, Dairy UK
  • Julian Pace, Scottish Enterprise
  • James Bruhn, Historic Environment Scotland
  • Ian Muirhead, Agricultural Industries Confederation
  • Grace Reid, NSA Scotland
  • Vicky Swales, RSPB
  • Stephen Young, SLE
  • Sarah Millar, QMS
  • Caroline Drummond, LEAF
  • David Michie, NFUS
  • Pete Ritchie, Nourish
  • Drew Ratter, HIASG
  • Debs Roberts, SOPA
  • Jeremy Moody, CAAV
  • Katrina Barclay, RHASS
  • Andy McGowan, Scottish Pig Producers
  • Dave Barron, SBA

Internal

  • Fergus Ewing, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism
  • John Kerr, Head of Agricultural Policy Division
  • Michael Wilson, SRDP Officer
  • James Muldoon, Head of Agriculture Support Policy Development Unit
  • Derek Wilson, Head of Agriculture Transformation in Productivity Unit
  • Jen Willoughby, Head of National and International Regulatory Alignment Unit
  • Brendan Callaghan, Head of Operational Deliver – Scottish Forestry
  • Ian Cowe, Grants Delivery Officer – Scottish Forestry
  • Tracy McIntyre, DD RPID
  • Mary Ferry, Head of Digital Delivery Services
  • Louise Lang, Branch Head of Common Agricultural Policy Replacement
  • Alice Hunter, Head of Regional Land Use Partnerships Policy
  • Kirsten Banks, Agri-Environment Policy Manager
  • Stefan Hoyte, Senior Economist
  • Ally McAlpine, Senior Statistician
  • Paul Neison, Head of Mapping and Land Services
  • Scott Sayers, Policy Lead – Future Rural Policy Frameworks
  • Fiona Leslie, Head of Branch - Agriculture Holdings Policy Development and Women in Agriculture
  • Kirsten Beddows, Head of Agriculture Transformation for Environment and Climate Change
  • Imogen Lambert, Agri-environment Senior Policy Adviser
  • Angus Leigh, Policy Officer
  • Kairn Macleod, Joining Louise Lang team as policy officer
  • Andrew Scott, Director of Agriculture and Rural Economy
  • Debbie Kessell, Branch Head of Plant Health, Horticulture, Seeds and Potatoes Policy
  • Emma Glen, Secretariat

Items and actions

Welcome and minutes from the previous meeting

Everyone was welcomed to the meeting by the chair, John Kerr. It was confirmed the first 30 minutes would be for routine business and then the Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing would join the meeting. It was noted that there was a good attendance for last ARD meeting of this parliamentary session, this allowed a good opportunity to catch up and also to hear for Mr Ewing.

In addition to the agenda you received there may also be 2 additional items which come up - the Flex report which you may have queries about, and SG have published the crofting development plan which you may have queries about.

The minutes of last meeting were circulated and you’ll note one outstanding action - SG to discuss how RESAS analysis from 2017 can be progressed. SG has just started working on the analysis but we’ve not had legal gateways to share data. This is a priority item for the team who’ve had various conversations with GSI, who understand the data they want and have spoken with data analysts who are already prepared. This week or start of next week SG will hopefully be in a position to share with this work with James Hutton. The scope of the work has been agreed - we’re looking to update analysis done in 2017 with 2019 data – which should enable us to capture business changes and elements that were projected when the analysis was originally done. The analysis will be extended to include LFASS payments. Details and reflections from 2017 analysis have been taken on board but pillar 2 schemes are not being taken on board at this stage as they sit a bit differently to what’s being assessed – leaving this an option to come back to once initial phase has been covered. 

Stakeholders felt that this was an interesting and useful to see what the content / questions will be and how it will be ran? There are issues worth discussing and taking stakeholder views on. It was suggested that SG could do this and present it at a regional level for the 5 land use partnerships that will be developed?

Stakeholders expressed disappointment that pillar 2 won’t be looked at. It is important for informing future policy and is really needed to identify more targeted support measures which are trying to achieve defined outcomes.

SG confirmed that on regionalisation it would certainly be possible. This will be taken back and discussed with RESAS colleagues to see if this could be added. On Pillar 2 it’s not that it can’t be done rather that it is a matter of resourcing and it won’t be done first.

AP: regional analysis will be looked at and any other feedback welcome. Will look at what could be provided on pillar 2, and will report back on any problems to this group.

SG updated that on the Regional Land Use Partnerships perspective they are also looking at data and are meeting with regions to ensure data requirements are taken into account to develop support appropriately. Hopefully more updates will be provided on the data side shortly.

A stakeholder mentioned that they were also working on payment data from a different perspective, and as part of that looking at Pillar 2 payments and when going down to ag region there are disclosure issues. Just want to caution that you can’t show this data.

Stakeholder confirmed that they realised the data issue but that there were ways of presenting information that would still be helpful but that don’t cause disclosure issues – for e.g. showing broad distribution. Feasible to do without giving away details.

2020 payments – pillar 1 and pillar 2

SG started by highlighting that in the main most of their staff are still working from home so they are delighted that in terms of 2020 payment strategy there has been very good progress. BPS, Young Farmers and Greening commenced and are 2 months ahead. LFASS payments started in January and are making good progress. The restricted round of AECS has started with a small number of applications so far.

The Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing announced the 2021 strategy in February and the intention to keep matching the performance of 2020. The SAF window opened on 20th march and RPID staff reaching out to customers to encourage online working and supporting them to do this. Last year 91% of applications came in online and they are targeting 95%. The long term intention is that most will come online but SG are here to assist those who don’t.

A stakeholder mentioned that they had been hearing concerns about AECS, partly because of the very reduced rounds. Farmers aren’t meeting the criteria, it’s complex, agents are having issues. We are starting to see the impacts of a very limited round which concerns them a lot.

AP: SG will pick this up with the team to see if there is anything they can do here. Sense check from delivery perspective.

A stakeholder mentioned that certain schemes money had to be drawn by end of financial year. Has anything changed due to COVID-19 - FPMC specifically?

SG confirmed that for annual claims it’s 30th June. Capital claims 31st march still in place however will verify with Pillar 2 colleagues and come back to the group

AP: check status of schemes and date money must be drawn and feedback

Stakeholders felt that it was impressive that teams were so far ahead. On AECS they queried whether SG could give an idea about organic conversion, how tight this will be on points needed to get an org conversion through?

AP: will feedback on this query.

All stakeholders requested to be copied into this response.

Cabinet Secretary, Fergus Ewing joined the meeting.

Mr Ewing speech

“Thanks for the work you do in this group. One of the important things in Scotland is that we can get round the table, albeit digitally at the moment, without the input from yourself we wouldn’t make progress. Its only when we work as a team we can make great progress.

I’d just like to offer a few reflections over the last 5 years and I wanted to say that from my part it’s been a privilege being the Rural Minister. It’s the most satisfying job I’ve had in government. I feel over the last 5 years we sorted out the farm payments problem which I feel had soured relations between the government and farmers as after all these payments are their wages. They are what keep rural communities going and allow the rural economy to flourish. Really proud of the work Tracey’s team have done and the hard work involved. I’ve spent 1000’s of hours learning more about the Common Agricultural policy than anyone would wish to know. We had conference calls weekly for around 3 years. It does show that working together you can solve problems even if they are impractical and involve IT. I’m very pleased also that despite the sceptics, we achieved success in restoring the convergence money to Scotland. This was money that was due to farmers and crofters. I will admit I wasn’t certain we’d succeed but I did have a plan and it worked out. This money was paid a couple of months ago and also last year in 2 instalments. This money has helped a lot of farmers and crofters during a very difficult period as the last 12 months has been the most difficult for individuals and businesses. Businesses have faced real financial pressure, particularly in tourism and also for individuals, particularly those living by themselves. I really feel for these people. In my own family I’ve got a brother in law and sister who are effectively living alone, it’s not easy I don’t think – maybe some of you are in this situation yourself so I would like to thank Nina and her team at RSABI for all the work that they do in providing the pastoral support to many in the rural community and I’m pleased we were able to help in a modest way.

There’s been a lot of things that we’ve done over the years, I don’t really want to spend the meeting going over these but there are some notable achievements. In forestry, we’ve achieved a remarkable turnaround planting in total 5,000 hectares in 2015 to nearly 12,000 hectares last year. This is a tremendous achievement and is a result of a team effort again, of Scottish Forestry working with CONFOR in a way which I think is probably the most effective team working I’ve seen. I think they’ve worked most closely and most effectively of all and that’s tremendously successful and doesn’t happen by accident. I’m also pleased we’re making great progress in planting native species and meeting our targets on that. Improving habitats and all the other things, baring commercial species which is obviously the driver of the Rural Economy but the planting of native species is also important. 

Just yesterday we launched a new scheme for smaller land owners and crofters, a loan scheme which is designed to remove one of the barriers for them getting into forestry, Those smaller units won’t have the capital in the bank to afford the upfront planting costs, seedlings and fencing contractors and so on, and so we provided a 50% advance payment. This has been specifically designed to encourage more small farmers and crofters to be able to do something which some of them would like to have done but haven’t had the capital, so I’m very proud that we’ve managed to do that. It has taken a wee while and most applications now are actually from smaller holdings.I’m also pleased that we’ve completed the devolution of forestry and that under the leadership of Simon and Dave the organisations are incredibly well led. I’m also frankly amazed that despite COVID-19 we’ve managed to nearly achieve the target in plantings and granting consents, which says a lot for the integrity and hardworking nature of the staff in forestry, as well as in RPID processing the farm payments. I am extremely grateful for the work these teams have done and the excellent relationships we’ve had over the last 5 years.

In the fishing side, obviously the Brexit sea of opportunity seems to have evaporated and been replaced by a series of bureaucratic impediments to the continuance of our exports. I think we are genuinely worried about how this is going because it seems to me that the Brexit world is a very difficult one, particularly for the smaller guy – their export markets to Italy, Spain were vital and now the profit margin has been completely used up by the cost of doing business and EHC certification. This is a particular problem at the moment that we’re working on but I have been pleased that we’ve provided support for our fisherman throughout COVID-19, Marine Scotland have done a terrific job here. They were so close to the fisherman that they actually got their money first, before anyone else during COVID-19.

The last 2 points I want to make are that we are concerned that despite promises made prior to the Brexit referendum that when we came out of Europe we would receive at least the same amount of funding from the UK Government, we believe we are being short changed to the tune of £170 million between now and 2025. We’ve documented this, one of our officials has produced a computation of this and we are not alone. Wales and Northern Ireland also argue that they too have received less than they would have had we remained in Europe. The Brexit bill is set at £170 million pounds for Scotland, we are fighting this and I think this will probably be an issue over the coming weeks but it is absolutely essential that we get this money back because if we don’t how can we continue to support farmers and crofters, how can we do what we want to promote biodiversity and tackle climate change. We cannot succeed to the same extent if we don’t have the money, so just as we fought and won the Convergence campaign, although it took 6 years, we will fight and I hope we will win the campaign to win back funding that we were promised we would have coming out of Europe. As I say this is not a political campaign in a sense because the Welsh administration are a Labour administration and the Northern Ireland administration are Unionists. This is a-political, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland all saying the same thing. It’s a very serious matter and I raise it specifically because one of the reasons that we won the Convergence campaign was because of the support from stakeholders. You are our stakeholders, if you support us on this matter as you did before then that massively strengthens our hand in order to secure the return of this money.

The last thing I want to say is that just as we work as a team, I think that the way ahead in the future of agriculture lies in presenting Scotland as a nation which produces high quality food but also does so in a way that is kind to the planet. In other words the specific objectives we have in Scotland are to:

  • produce food, and that requires support because it’s a very valuable contribution to society – a necessary one
  • to provide our own food, just how fragile the worlds freight connections are have been demonstrated during Brexit 

We must produce our own food, and to produce it sustainably and viably, to improve our soil quality, our carbon audits, all these things, we must do these over the next 5 years.

I’ve found that in dealing with farmers that it’s not always easy to persuade them to do something and certainly not easy to persuade a farmer to do something he doesn’t want to do. The only way, in my view, to bring about change is to take farmers with us. The only way to do that is to give ownership of the details of the implementation of the policy to farmers, crofters and land managers themselves. For them to work with us as a team in order to deliver what we must deliver, which is reduced emissions across the whole sector. In other words it’s a bottom up approach and this is the process that the Programme for Government committed us to and I’ve been trying to work on over the past year. We’re not quite there yet but I believe we will get there. I’m immensely grateful to Jim Walker for his leadership, Claire Simonetta for co-producing the report that we did last November – it’s really a manual for how to farm beef sustainably. That work involving as it does NatureScot, SRUC, this is the correct approach to policy I think – working as a team. I’m optimistic that this process once it is able to bear fruit will be the right one for Scotland and is the only way that we will succeed in tackling climate change. Imposing, ordering change from a politician who used to be a Glasgow lawyer on farmers will not work. Nor will it from academics, experts, Civil Servants. The only way to persuade farmers is by winning their hearts and minds, and the only people that can do that successfully are their own people so that’s the way it should be.

I’ve spoken for probably too long, I apologise for that but I do finish by thanking you all for your various contributions over the last 5 years and if the electorate decide to vote for Fergus Ewing again then I hope to be around for another 5 years. Who knows, if I’m offered the job by the First Minister again then I would very much accept it and carry on working with you for a while yet. Thank you very much, I’ll now pass you back to John.” 

The Chair commented that today’s meeting had been one of the best attended in a while. Attendees were asked in advance for some topics people may wish to hear from Mr Ewing on and comments were asked from those attending after reflecting and pose questions on what Mr Ewing has just said?

A stakeholder commented that although it’s a minority pastime, farming deer seems to fit very nicely with goals Mr Ewing has mentioned. Deer farming seems to be growing very nicely and want to ensure we don’t fall between stools.

Mr Ewing responded that we have worked together to produce the venison strategy and I think this is a good foundation. I think we recognise that venison as a meat is the most nutritious and is growing in popularity. Would like to see the success develop of the deer sector as a whole. Want to ensure this cohort are in the fold and play a part in future and they are well placed to do this. There are logistic and practical issues and questions which need to be addressed, so more work to be done.

Another stakeholder thanked Mr Ewing for his stimulating speech. As a working suckler cow arable farmer this approach is encouraging. Farmers will change as they need to look after the environment. Farmer led groups will achieve things far better than civil servants policing them and telling them what to do. Approach 100% correct, and hopefully you’ll be here to implement this. The speed of implementation however is concerning, climate change is a big issue and it needs to be done quickly.

Mr Ewing thanked him for his comments and said that he did want monitor farms to continue and had had this discussion with Quality Meat Scotland yesterday so safely assume that although no announcements have been made thee plan is to continue these. They can have a role to play in addressing climate change as well as promoting biodiversity. The way government works takes longer than anyone really wants, there are reasons why things take a while but the main thing is we work together. There are lots of discussions required but that at the end of the day the farmers need to deliver - farmers are ready for change. Any departure from the approach suggested wouldn’t succeed at all. Hope this can be a non-political thing, obvious that if you want to bring about change the people delivering must be involved.

A stakeholder then thanked Mr Ewing for his support of the dairy sector.

Another stakeholder thanked Mr Ewing for his and time over the last year during a very difficult time. A huge amount of work gone into farmer led groups but what would you like to see the outputs to be / vision for Scottish agriculture in 2025 or 2030?

Mr Ewing responded that in 2025 he’d like to see the country producing high quality food in accordance with environmental standards - younger people are demanding this. In practice between now and 2024 we carry on with existing schemes to give farmers / crofters confidence that money is coming in but by 2025 have a scheme of farming support that ensures farming will be carried out in accordance with environmental targets. There is a need to restore peat lands and build on forestry. England are going in a slightly diff tact, the focus is not on food production.

Scotland will continue to support supply chain and there will be mandatory requirements on agricultural targets over a period of years.

A stakeholder said that he’d enjoyed working with Mr Ewing. He felt that Farmer-led groups were a great example of getting the industry to work together to work together

Mr Ewing responded that we do work well together as a country. Tackling climate change, as well as being a threat is an opportunity. The worst possible thing is a new opportunity that passes by ordinary people. Fundamental thing is that in government if there is no cooperation then it doesn’t work at all.

A stakeholder stated that they shared the goal of a sustainable quality food but that they are probably the most heavily regulated part of the food supply chain.

Mr Ewing stated that if a sector of industry comes to us and says they are being regulated in an overly cumbersome way it will look at it but we will need to know what is overly cumbersome. High standards do require regulations but I do understand the costs need to be paid. A starting point would be a series of suggestions from you about what we can do better? Mr Ewing said this discussion could be had in the next session if he was still in place.

The next stakeholder queried the Farming and Food Production Future Policy Group – what’s currently happening and when will they be publishing?

Mr Ewing confirmed that this group was mandated by parliament to be set up and we agreed. As I understand it the group will decide when to publish this report and it is entirely up to them what they do. He had not had a chance to look at this but as far as subsidies are concerned he didn’t view the support payment as a subsidy, he felt farmers delivered value. Coming out of Brexit WTO rules will apply, nothing we plan to do contravene these rules, however we need Scottish Government Legal Department advice on this. Limits that WTO provide are limits we’d be adhering to.

A stakeholder stated that domestic state aid seemed to be discussing bringing agricultural and fisheries in, bypassing the fact we have our own subsidies.

Mr Ewing stated that devolved powers are being negated, and brought in officials.

SG confirmed that WTO is probably sufficient but proper advice hasn’t been provided. State aid colleagues are working up this advice and we see the advantage of the WTO rules working as they are rather than being bundled up. Not just agriculture that’s at play at the moment – but it is a ball that’s still in play.

A stakeholder pointed out that Mr Ewing had mentioned bio-diversity. They felt a lot more had to be done for in decline species. They asked for an explanation around some of the decisions regarding AECS or whether there were other things he’d have in mind to address the bio-diversity crisis between now and something new coming in in 2025. Farmers want to get into a new scheme but it’s very restricted and where does organic farming sit?

Mr Ewing confirmed he was supportive of organic farming and the bio-diversity challenge. A further AECS round has been launched and SG have maintained hectorage. SG brought forward payments but need to continue to promote bio-diversity. He stated that if there is £170 million less in the budget than they would have had, had SG remained in the EU it would be difficult to do everything people want them to do. He hoped that the SG could have the full support of RSPB here as if SG don’t get this money back they’ll be unable to maintain all payments they want to. This affects everything. SG are committed to tacking bio-diversity and in doing this between now and 2024. One of the problems of environmental schemes is that some benefit and some don’t, along with the fact the payments are ad-hoc. There is a fundamental issue about the way in which we provide support overall.

The stakeholder confirmed they’d be happy to send information through, there are different views but happy to send on the information if Mr Ewing returned post-election.

A stakeholder mentioned funding and although he recognised the state aid aspects he queried the prospects of engaging private funding support?

Mr Ewing said that he recognised the need to engage to get private sector support particularly in tackling climate change. He said he’d had discussions about the need to substantially improve our contribution and didn’t see how, with the pressure on public finances, unless we harness the desire to invest from the private sector. This is an opportunity that he’s very supportive of, just like he is encouraging innovation and efficiency. There is no doubt that there’s a real longer term challenge with availability of long term funding for farming and we need to work in partnership with the private sector.

The chair thanked everyone for their comments, and mentioned he thought all points had been covered. Gene editing could be picked up at a later date. He thanked the group for their attendance and thanked Mr Ewing for joining us. A couple of things in the written update were not covered but anyone with any questions were asked to get in touch with directly through Emma.

Mr Ewing thanked everyone for their participation and work over the last 5 years. Wished everyone the best of luck for the future and said he may be back and if so, very much would like to continue working in cooperation in future.

AOB

The next meeting was confirmed as Thursday 20th May.

Action points

1. Regional analysis will be looked at and any other feedback welcome. Will look at what could be provided on pillar 2, and will report back on any problems to this group.

2. Concerns around AECS - SG will pick this up with the team to see if there is anything they can do here. Sense check from delivery perspective.

3. Check status of schemes and date money must be drawn and feedback.

4. On AECS they queried whether SG could give an idea about organic conversion, how tight this will be on points needed to get an org conversion through?