ARD Stakeholder Group minutes: May 2019

Minutes of the seventh meeting of the ARD (agriculture and rural development) Stakeholder Group held on 23 May 2019.

Attendees and apologies

  • John Kerr, Head of Agriculture Policy Division, SG (Chair)
  • Eleanor Kay, SLE
  • Ian Muirhead, Agriculture Industries
  • James Bruhn, Historic Environment Scotland             
  • Maria De La Torre, SNH
  • Mark Aitken, SEPA 
  • Martin Morgan, Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers 
  • Megan Welford, Soil Association
  • Patrick Krause, Scottish Crofting Federation  
  • Paul Flanagan, AHDB 
  • Pete Ritchie, Nourish Scotland 
  • Peter Duncan, Institute of Auctioneers and Appraisers in Scotland
  • Ross Macleod, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust 
  • Vicki Swales, RSPB/SE LINK 
  • Alistair Prior, Rural Economy and Communities, SG
  • Catriona Maclean, Head of Rural Economy and Communities, SG
  • Gerry Saddler, Chief Plant Health Officer for Scotland, SG 
  • Helen Stanley, CAP, GM & Agricultural Climate Change, SG
  • Kirsten Beddows, CAP, GM & Agricultural Climate Change, SG
  • Michael Rosie, EU Exit Hub, SG
  • Rachel Smith, CAP, GM & Agricultural Climate Change, SG
  • Shirley Graham, CAP, GM & Agricultural Climate Change, SG
  • Steven Allan, Digital Strategy and Governance Services, SG

Apologies (and/or organisations not represented at meeting):

Central Ass. Valuers, CONFOR, Committee of Scottish Bankers, Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, Deer Farmers, Highlands & Islands Agricultural Support Group, JHI, Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF), NFUS, NSA, SAOS, SBA, Scottish Enterprise, SOPA, SRUC, QMS


Items and actions

Welcome and introductions 

John Kerr (JK) welcomed everyone and informed members there would be a presentation from Catriona Maclean, Head of Rural Economy and Communities Division on the Agriculture and Rural Economy Directorate and Gerry Saddler, Chief Plant Health Officer for Scotland & Head of SASA, would provide an overview of SASA and the Centre of Expertise for Plant Health. JK welcomed new attendees to the group, and informed members that Andrew Wright would no longer be attending the ARD SHG as he has left his role within IAAC.  Also, as David Barnes (DB) was unable to attend the meeting, JK will provide DB’s written update.  

Minutes and actions from previous meeting 

The previous minute had been circulated and there was one outstanding action:

  • Para 6.1 – In regards to the Pillar 1 payment table: members asked for another column to be added to show actual spend in the update table that RPID provide. KB said she would ask RPID.  Update: as RPID already regularly provide a number of updates, that are available on the Scottish Parliament website, it’s not possible at this stage to produce anything further. If there’s any specific payment queries, SG is happy to look into this.  

Agriculture and Rural Economy presentation

Catriona Maclean (CM) provided an overview of the Scottish Government’s Agriculture and Rural Economy (ARE) Directorate and how it’s delivering the National Performance Framework (NPF). CM stressed how much SG values rural Scotland and it’s doing a lot to deliver the NPF and its outcomes. She stated the NPF is embedded in legislation and belongs to the people of Scotland as well as SG. It doesn’t matter who’s in power, they will work towards the objectives and outcomes of the NPF. CM added, that in 2018, rural Scotland contributed over £36 billion to Scotland - impressive given that this equates to 27% of the overall economy of the country and yet only 19% of the working age population are based in rural Scotland.  

CM summarised the many different policy areas in ARE. Animal health and welfare (AHW) division keep Scotland’s world renowned food and drink industry safe with their veterinary surveillance and looks after the health of our bees which pollinate Scotland’s crops – which is worth £43 Million to Scotland’s economy. They’re renowned internationally and regularly participate in international activities and cutting edge research.  Science and Advice for Agriculture (SASA) also look after the health of our trees, crops and horticulture. CM informed members that SASA has just opened a centre for plant excellence and works with others to develop cutting edge research. SASA protect Scotland’s world rewnound potato industry which is worth around £200M to the Scottish economy. Like AHW, much of the work of SASA does is preventative. 

The agricultural policy team develops policies that supports the various schemes and is responsible for the policy around agricultural climate change and how farming can contribute more to our climate change targets. CM told members how the division creates rural cohesion by supporting crofting, tenant farmers, women in agriculture and land-based skills and the knowledge and innovation services - all critical for a successful rural Scotland. She stated that RPID supports the rural economy by ensuring that more than £500 million of support is delivered to farmers and crofters - a real team effort, with the front line staff all over rural Scotland processing claims and providing advice to farmers and crofters. RPID also act as a first line of support when customers need additional support.  

ARE’s Information Systems Division (ISD) create IT systems and are responsible for producing  guidance to support staff and customers. They also provide solutions that allow others to deliver effectively. CM added that the rural economy and communities team has a wide-ranging remit, including maintaining a bridge between mainstream policy divisions ensuring they contribute to the Economic Action Plan led on the work of the NCRA. They also provide mental health support in rural areas, and have helped rural Scotland to have its say by delivering the second rural parliament.  

CM concluded, stating the £62 million budget delivers a huge amount of financial support to rural Scotland but it does much more – it creates confidence in our markets about the quality of our food, it gives SG the opportunity promote Scotland internationally and contributes to the success of our food and drink industry.  

There followed a wide-ranging discussion including the need to factor in the effect of climate change, the need to focus on and demonstrate outcomes, the need for community involvement and the need for science and policy to be how livestock production can contribute to climate change mitigation by reducing imports (fewer road miles) and by using inputs more efficiently. Some expressed concerns that a decline in livestock numbers would impact on processing capacity and that the industry was shrinking. Please see presentation slides for more information.   

SASA presentation 

Gerry Saddler (GS) provided an overview of the work of SASA and the activity around plant health in Scotland and, specifically, the work of the Centre of Expertise for Plant Health – which was established around a year ago. 

GS informed members that SASA’ s role is to provide scientific advice and services, specifically and historically in arable agriculture. However, SASA also has a wider remit across plant health and certain aspects of food safety, e.g. products or commodities bought in supermarkets. SASA tests them for the presence of pesticides to make sure that any pesticides present were legally sold and used and don’t exceed residue limits imposed by the EU.  

GS explained that SASA also use the same technology to investigate incidents of wildlife crime, e.g. illegal poisoning of raptors in particular. He told members that SASA has a forensic wildlife crime unit that uses the same DNA technology that the police would use in their investigations. There was also a unit responsible for inspecting horticulture and marketing, which ensures that plant material or plants for planting that are imported into Scotland, are not entering Scotland with any pest pathogens. This unit is also responsible for looking at products sold in supermarkets, e.g. ensuring products are of the correct standards for sale.  

GS added there’s also a policy branch that looks at how policy is implemented in Scotland for pesticides and fertilisers in plant health and also plant varieties and seed production. In these areas, the majority of the legislation is devolved – so SASA is responsible for ensuring the implementation of that legislation within Scotland. GS discussed the significance of plant health in terms of how plants contribute to the Scottish economy. Crop production, including horticulture and agriculture generates around £3 billion to the Scottish economy annually. Forestry is also a major contributor, generating at around £360 million, while the natural environment, which is difficult to put a financial figure on, is hugely significant - land is Scotland’s biggest asset.  

GS explained that Scotland launched its plant health strategy back in 2016 and the catalyst for launching this was the ash dieback outbreak which hit the UK in 2015/6. The purpose of the plant health strategy is to protect and enhance Scotland’s economy and also the natural environment. In the strategy SG gave a commitment to employing a Chief Plant Health Officer – which is GS’s role. It was recognised that the work carried out on plant health was often fragmented and siloed, so SG committed to establish the plant health centre of expertise bringing together, in Scotland, the various different expertise in plant health, to devise a unified force - plant pathogens don’t recognise borders.  

The aims of the centre, is to establish a single access point for advice and knowledge, to focus on Scotland’s plant health needs, enhance co-ordination and synergy of the best available scientific advice to inform government policy and action on the management of the wide range of pests and pathogens which pose a threat to Scotland’s agriculture, forestry and natural environment. Please see presentation slides for more information.  

Discussion on this item focussed on EU pesticide bans, pesticide usage, reduction and management. One member asked if SG should also have a chief soil health officer which GS and CM said they would take back and consider. There was also a discussion about potential common frameworks after Brexit. GS said that by and large it was expected there would be UK-wide cooperation on pesticides.  

Brexit update 

In the absence of David Barnes (DB), JK read a note provided by DB. Stakeholders will be aware of the main developments since the last meeting, and the recent developments at Westminster. The UK Government (UKG) and the EU agreed to extend the Article 50 period until 31 October. This means the UK is still, for the time being, bound by the rules of being a member state, including the requirement to hold European Parliament elections. These took place on 23 May in the UK but results will not be announced until after the last member states have held their elections, later that week.  

The Prime Minister (PM), having failed to secure agreement at Westminster in time to stop the EP elections from going ahead, is now attempting to reach agreement in time to prevent the newly-elected UK MEPs from having to take their seats. It was always known that if and when Westminster approved the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by the Government, a bill would be necessary to give it legal effect. The PM announced that the Withdrawal Agreement Bill will be introduced and MP’s will vote on this week commencing Monday 3 June  – this is despite the fact that Westminster has three times rejected the Withdrawal Agreement which the Bill is designed to implement. 

On 21 May, the PM delivered a speech in London setting out her “new deal” for Brexit. This speech urged MP’s to come together. She made a number of concessions in an attempt to secure support for the Bill. These included a guaranteed vote on a second referendum before the Bill comes into law as well as a Commons vote on customs options including her so-called “customs compromise.” Essentially this “customs compromise” would be a temporary customs union on goods. The PM went on to promise legislation to ensure worker’s rights are "every bit as good, if not better" after Brexit – and gave guarantees of no dilution in environmental standards.

Importantly, the Prime Minister’s “new deal” did not address the Northern Ireland “back-stop” issue in great detail beyond guaranteeing that Northern Ireland would remain aligned with the UK customs territory. This is likely because the EU has indicated they will not negotiate on that point. On 22 May, MP’s debated her Brexit statement in the House of Commons for several hours. Cross party reaction was largely negative and there was strong criticism from both leave and remain MPs. The new deal appears to have further distanced many within the Conservative party. At the same time, the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn was joined by others in his party in suggesting that the concessions are not significant and could likely be achieved via amendments in any case. 

Given this reaction, most media commentators are expecting that the vote, in w/c 3 June, will fail. In that scenario and amidst growing pressure, it is expected that the PM will resign and there will at some point be a new leader of the Conservative Party and PM. SG doesn’t know exactly when this would happen, nor what would happen next including whether the new PM would call a general election as a way of breaking the Westminster impasse. When the extension to 31 Oct was agreed, SG made clear that this did not remove the risk of No Deal. The fundamental differences remain unresolved, and the extension merely postponed the threat of No Deal. SG’s position remains unchanged:

It would be best to remain in the EU:

  • if Brexit has to happen, staying in the Customs Union and Single Market is the least worst option
  • a People’s Vote should be used to break the impasse

Within SG, emergency response arrangements put in place for 29 March have been stood down – but will stand them up again at short notice at any time, if needed.

On legislation, there has been no progress with Defra’s Bill. SG understands Defra are deliberately waiting, because if they move the Bill on from its current stage and then the PM (or a new PM) officially closes this session of Parliament, then they would have to start again – which they want to avoid. For SG’s own Bill, DB described at the last meeting the approach that SG is taking; namely that the Bill will provide the powers to make changes to the detail of CAP schemes during the period up to 2024 as set out in Stability and Simplicity. Good progress has been made in preparing the instructions for the specialist lawyers (Parliamentary Counsel) who will draft the Bill. The Bill team has also started work on the various accompanying documents and impact assessments which are required to go with the Bill.  

The timetable for the Bill will be confirmed when the SG legislative programme for 2019/20 is announced later in the year. SG will contact members as and when we are able to give more details – we won’t wait till the next face to face meeting if there is more we can say by email before then. JK confirmed that the current powers allow for small pilots to be run, e.g. through the Knowledge Innovation Transfer Fund (KTIF), but unable to run larger scale pilots.  

Climate Change (CC) emergency 

Members updated the group on how their organisation was engaging with the climate change (CC) emergency.

Environment Link: Vicki Swales (VS), said she welcome statements made by SG and FM recognising this is a climate emergency and moves via the climate bill to accept the 2045 target; Env LINK thinks the target can be achieved through:

  • Scotland’s land and opportunities it presents, e.g. peatland restoration and tree planting. From land use perspective, there’s issues e.g. implications of how Scotland changes agriculture, where do extra trees go and what type
  • policy/practical questions around how Scotland’s land is used to deliver everything
  • managing agriculture so there’s more scope for renewables
  • some organisations, such as WWF, have already commissioned a report to look at how could Scotland meet Net Zero, and what would this mean for land use in Scotland – good starting point
  • having the land use strategy and the regional land use framework is important - provides a breakdown of what can be done at regional and local level
  • RSPB Scotland, big land owning organisation (77,000 ha in Scotland) already doing a lot in the way they manage land reserves – sequesters and stores of carbon, including peatland restoration, managing and planting woodlands and trees and habitats. Whilst protecting biodiversity at the same time
  • there’s a paper going to the RSPB trustees and Council setting out different options about what the organisation should be doing, i.e. the use of fleet cars that staff use, the energy supplies and sources for buildings, could more be done on renewables on reserves, looking at their carbon footprint – also talking to members about their carbon footprint consumption

Scottish Land & Estates: Eleanor Kay (EK) provided an overview:

  • CC embedded within policy activity/positions – not a topic on its own it’s in everything they do - helping get the message across to members
  • flagging best practice/knowledge exchange opportunities to members and what grants are available for them to adapt or mitigate CC
  • soon to publish ‘A new direction to land management’ which looks to have CC/biodiversity at its core and how SLE can link it in with the land use strategy 
  • eager to encourage greater attention to soil management so it’s embraced by members - they too can play their part in reducing emissions
  • EK feels the land use management sector has the tools it needs to start making positive changes

Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust: Ross Macleod (RM) provided an overview:

  • running two demonstration farms, one in England and one in Aberdeenshire, both look to benchmark some indicators on CC and issues pertaining to that
  • developing asset registers to monitor across soils, carbon, water quality and species and habitats
  • Aberdeenshire farm; looking to coordinate some work with JHI to design a simple asset register to be used on farms and at a farm cluster scale
  • particular interest in what happens on upland farms and how environmental, economic and social aspects can be captured
  • conscious there’s some data missing and gaps need to be plugged to ensure a better understanding of how the uplands could respond to CC  
  • farm clusters; landscape scale initiative getting farmers to operate from the group up - has been working well in England
  • funding enables farm clusters to engage with expert advisors helping with coordination and monitoring of species and habitats
  • two farm clusters taking place in Scotland which are more livestock orientated. GWCT are continuing to set clusters up and finding funding to take them forward

Scottish Natural Heritage: Maria De La Torre (MD) provided an overview:

  • SNH’ s chairman wrote to Roseanna Cunningham in connection to the CC crisis – stated there’s a strong connection between CC and some challenges Scotland is facing with nature - many are interconnected. E.g. land use
  • further work is required on soil management, peatland restoration and encouraging positive land management practises – thinks there is a strong connection between the Agri/Environ practises and CC
  • soon to launch a monitoring project to do some work looking at the Agri Environment scheme
  • looking at launching pilots to promote biodiversity
  • strong interest in land use and how this is managed and also how Scotland uses emissions

Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board: Paul Flanagan (PF) provided an overview:

  • interesting challenge for AHDB as they have three livestock sectors and three non-livestock sectors
  • establishing the landscapes and what research and programmes are running -  need to identifying gaps within programmes
  • building industry collaborations, such as NFU England, and working with other organisations
  • farm excellence programme; for every sector there’s a number of monitor farms – over 80 right now which will grow to over 100 by April 2020
  • intend to use some of these farms to provide messages and pilot some research
  • providing robust research to form public policy and advising farmers what they can do to mitigate the CC impact
  • continuing to engage with consumers - the more each sectors can work together the better the outcome will be for all

Scottish Environmental Protection Agency: Mark Aitken (MA) provided an overview:

  • looking to change the approach to gas emission to non-agriculture sectors that SEPA monitor and technical plans are in motion
  • continue to review flood risk management strategies and flood risk management plans and maps
  • produced revised plans and scenarios for potentially vulnerable areas of Scotland and looking at options to reduce flooding through natural flood management
  • on mitigation, looking to build on work they’ve been carrying out on diffuse pollution mitigation. Many measures used to reduce and control pollution are also helpful in preventing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture
  • promoting better soil management, slurry use, organic fertiliser use as part of the diffuse pollution
  • working with SRUC, attending agricultural shows promoting good agriculture practices, now being embedded in sector pans. Two are nearly finalised and due to be released in early June, on crop and dairy production
  • work on opportunity mapping, planting trees can improve water management
  • introduced tools on website to help soil management where farmers can map their soils

Historic Environment Scotland: James Bruhn (JB) provided an overview:

  • two pronged approach; reviewing their carbon footprint as an organisation – on-going for a few years - already green champions in the organisation
  • commitment to reduce unnecessary travel, small changes such as; changing lightbulbs in all buildings to more energy efficient bulbs
  • published a report/strategy in 2018 looking at this work, it including technical guidance
  • conducting research with Finland, Sweden, Norway and Iceland on the impact of increased moisture on historic buildings – three castles and a few sites in Scotland
  • last 20 years, HES has funded a project looking at coastal erosion and rising sea levels throughout Scotland. Reporting and monitoring the impact

Soil Association Scotland: Megan Welford (MW) provided an overview:

  • farming with nature; supporting/enabling farmers to make the most of nature based solutions. Informed by their organic licensees, but many steps along the way to organic e.g. Soil Association work with QMS on some events optimising pasture
  • big emphasis on soil health and management
  • agri forestry; planting trees on farms. Thinking of ways that are win wins – good for farmers and the environment
  • emphasis on optimum productivity - running events and field labs
  • farmer led innovation – rural innovation support service. Innovation isn’t just about technology, it’s about facilitation and people working together/achieving more/building networks
  • food; focus on public procurement. SG funded scheme called food for life, which works with local authorities to get local, fresh, sustainable food into schools. Working with QMS and increasing the spend for QMS meat through that programme – important to create a market for locally sourced produce

Nourish Scotland:  JK provided update that Pete Ritchie (PR) had provided:

  • working with NFUS, intend to hold consultation exercise around joint approach on how they tackle the climate agenda - will provide a report on this
  • the first panel meeting will take place in June

Institute of Auctioneers and Appraisers in Scotland: Peter Duncan (PD) provided an overview:

  • aware of the membership, place where livestock producers come together on a regular basis throughout the year – able to share best practices with them
  • convening power and forum for exchanging information

Crofting Federation: Patrick Krause (PK) provided an overview:

  • looking to get more information out to crofters to make them aware of opportunities
  • holding a workshop later in the year to share information
  • continuing to lobby that environmental schemes under the SRDP could be improved. E.g. some schemes under Agri- Environment Climate Scheme (AECS) aren’t tailored to be applied for by small units

In relation to the discussion, Martin Morgan (MM) mentioned a beef 2020 report – genesis of the Beef Efficiency Scheme – which funded a small pilot and the findings showed potential to deliver efficiencies for food production and the environmental savings was vast. MM suggested this should be looked at. ACTION for SG to look into this.  

Pillar 1 and 2 update 

Shirley Graham provided the Pillar 2 update and highlighted a few high points in the schemes. For AECS, 630 applications have been received, slightly less this year. SG believes is down to Brexit and fear of committing to a five year commitment. Collaborative applications window is open to the 31st May, and standalone slurry stores is open until 26 June.  Another scheme that comes under the umbrella of AECS, is Improving Public Access, there were 51 successful applications in 2018, taking SG’s commitment to £8.5 million. Shirley explained that the Beef Efficiency Scheme (BES) is now in position that SG is able to go back to individuals who took part, and show them their information - allowing them to benchmark that against BES participants. This information has been accumulated over the years and now in a position to share. There were 1520 participants with current spend at £12.9 million.  

Shirley highlighted a couple of LEADER projects. From this round of SRDP, 241 jobs have been created as part of the overall LEADER project. Shirley informed members of recent visits the team made with EU Commission colleagues - projects in East Lothian – one very successful project that had projected to create 2.5 jobs and were currently employing 15 members of staff. EU colleagues were particularly impressed. Shirley touched on the Farm Advisory Service (FAS), stating SG are looking to do some monitoring specifically on this. SG is trying to get better at how it benchmarks how well some projects have done in relation to SRDP as a whole - this is ongoing. Shirley informed the group that a SRDP scheme update paper had been circulated to members and to refer to that for more detail.

One member asked about the Food Processing Grants scheme and the £66 million budget. As there was still money left for this scheme, what was happening since the scheme was on its last round. Shirley responded that the scheme hasn’t been reopened at the moment and this is possibly due to the approvals that were currently ongoing. Shirley agreed to take this as an action to find out. Action.  

Andrew Watson (AW) provided the Pillar 1 update. AW informed members that RPID were keeping to the payment timetable published in December for Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 - on track to make 95% of Pillar 1 payments by the end of June and met the majority of the VCS Beef payments. Still on track to commence SUSS payments shortly. AW stated that across Pillar 2, RPID are making reasonably good progress through the schemes and able to start payments earlier than previous years and align with the schedule. In particular on LFASS, SG is in a stronger place this year in terms of getting the payments out. Another highlight for RPID has been SAF 19, the window closed on 15 May. The number of applications is similar to previous years, with only a 150 difference from SAF 18. Have seen a further increase in the number on online applications. AW told members that RPID are finalising processes for the next round of inspections which should start very soon. AW said he’s pleased with the status, given the competing pressures - in particular the Brexit no deal readiness. AW reminded members to advise any individual claimants that need help to get in touch with their local area office who can assist. 

Intra UK funding allocations review

JK updated members on the current position. Stakeholders were invited to contribute to the review, in writing, and a number of member’s organisations did so. JK thanked them for contributing. He added Lord Bew is also taking evidence from organisations verbally, for those who elected to do so in that way. The panel has heard from NFUS, SLE in the coming week and Environment Link on the day of the ARD SHG. JK stated he’s been present for the majority of the meetings and by and large, the feedback the panel is hearing from Scottish stakeholders is in line with SG’s position – that the money should be repatriated – and Scotland should get a fair allocation of convergence money for the next two years.  

JK added that agricultural economists submitted a piece of work, and there’s a caveat to SG receiving the total. Some areas of the UK, outside of Scotland, also have relatively low, and below the threshold, payment rates. So there’s a legitimate argument for those parts of the UK to also receive some of the convergence money. Mr Ewing conceded that point with Lord Bew, when his officials pointed out that there was analysis to support this. SG’s position remains that it is pushing for what is fair.  

JK summarised other points that are being raised with the panel. Most stakeholders who have made representation see the benefit in ring-fenced a funding pot for agriculture, but others also would like to see this money ring-fenced for agriculture and land use. The panel is very receptive to that, coming from predominately agricultural interests – so are apparently minded to include something around this in their report. The other point being raised is that multi annual funding is very helpful to the busineses the funding supports. 

The panel was supposed to have reported by the end of May, but it’s now more likely to be before the Westminster Summer recess. It’s important to note, SG and the panel are very disappointed that the evidence to why the funding was allocated the way it was in 2013, has not and will not be shared with the panel and SG. Secretary of State, Michael Gove, has given commitments that this evidence would be given to the panel but is now unable to due to the restrictions on sharing Ministerial advice. Mr Ewing made it clear that he didn’t see that as a justification, that there was a public interest argument and SG continues to press on that basis.  

AOB: JK reminded members that the next ARD Stakeholder Group meeting will take place on 30 July and SG will be in touch with members beforehand if there’s any information they urgently need to be made aware of.   

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