Future agriculture support and food security: statement by Rural Affairs Secretary

Statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, Mairi Gougeon, to the Scottish Parliament on 8 November 2022.

Presiding Officer,

Today I will be setting out clearly the approach that the Scottish Government will take in the coming years to reforming support for agriculture and I will update Parliament on our Food Security work.

In March this year, I was delighted to announce Scotland’s Vision for Agriculture, A Vision with food production at its heart.

It makes clear our support for farmers and crofters in providing the country with healthy nutritious food, whilst also ensuring Scotland meets its world-leading climate and nature restoration outcomes.

From the outset there is a point of principle that I wish to make clear.  There is no contradiction between high quality food production and producing it in a way that delivers for  climate and nature. This was clear in the reports of the farmer led groups, which are the blueprint for the detail in our future policy.

Our Vision for Agriculture is rooted in that understanding. 

It sets out proudly, our ambition, that our producers, and so our nation, are recognised as global leaders in sustainable and regenerative agriculture.

Since publishing our vision we have, of course, seen the implications from the illegal invasion of Ukraine. 

While immediate supplies of food are secure, we continue to remain concerned, like most countries, about the production, supply and price of produce and the need to do more to protect and support our food and drink sector.

Through the challenges of Brexit, Covid-19 and now the ongoing war in Ukraine, we have already seen just how resilient the food sector is. 

However, the sector continues to face significant challenges that put at risk its ability to provide accessible and affordable produce.

Earlier this year I set up a Short-life Food Security and Supply Taskforce, together with industry, to “monitor, identify and respond to any potential disruption to food security and supply resulting from the impact of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine”.

The final report of the Taskforce was published on 23 June containing a series of recommendations.

And we have been working since that time to deliver on those recommendations.

We have already delivered a new food and drink focused business support landing page that went live on the 14th July, and the Scottish Government and Food Standards Scotland have opened engagement with the Groceries Code Adjudicator, having met with them in the summer.

Another key recommendation in the report was the establishment of a dedicated Food Security Unit, which we reaffirmed our commitment to in our Programme for Government this year.

The unit is now being established within the Scottish Government, with a view to monitoring ongoing supply chain vulnerabilities and linking with future food security work.

The Taskforce also recognised that the UK Government holds many of the levers to help address the issues currently affecting the food and drink sector, for example, CO2 shortages, sharp increases in fertiliser, energy and fuel costs, are some of the most significant.

The recommendation was that the Scottish Government should raise these matters with the UK Government and I subsequently wrote to the then Defra Secretary of State.

There has been no response to that communication to date.

I have since raised these critical matters again with the latest Secretary of State, Therese Coffey, and I will continue to urge the UK Government to take immediate action.

The taskforce report outlined that there would potentially be further meetings of the group in a monitoring capacity, we met on the 11th October and there will be a further meeting arranged in the coming months.

I will of course keep Parliament updated as we make further progress on the taskforce recommendations.

Turning now to sustainable food production; this is an outcome that we know can only be reached by working with our producers, rural Scotland and our nation more broadly.  This thinking is at the heart of all that we do

The taskforce which I co-chaired with the Chief Executive of Scotland Food and Drink exemplified this joined-up government and industry approach. 

Likewise, I have been delighted to have the President of the NFUS as my co-chair of the Agriculture Reform Implementation Oversight Board (ARIOB), since its inception last August. 

This partnership work is a driving force of our National Test Programme.

For example, in Track 1 of the Programme, ‘Preparing for Sustainable Farming’, we listened to the needs of the industry and are supporting businesses to undertake carbon audits and soil sampling. 

These elements are both live and open for claims, and we know from discussion with the sector that many farms are already engaging in this work.

We will be adding measures to our National Test Programme as it develops in the coming years, including measures to improve Animal Health as well as Biodiversity. 

These tools help farmers and crofters to prepare for the coming changes by creating a baseline from where they can build environmentally and economically resilient businesses.

Similarly, in the second track of the NTP, ‘Testing Actions for Sustainable Farming’; we are working with farmers and crofters across Scotland, taking those measures presented by the Farmer Led groups, to establish future conditions for support that really can and will work. 

We launched a public consultation on our proposals for a future Agriculture Bill in August and right now, the Scottish Government is hosting in-person and online events across the country, to ensure we hear from all who wish to contribute to the consultation on the Bill and the powers needed to deliver our Vision.

I know from these events, and from the rally we saw at Parliament last week and hearing directly from farmers and crofters, that there is a real desire to understand more on the next steps and to discuss the detail. 

Our consultation outlines the model for future support payments, setting out a four-tier support system of Base support payments, together with Enhanced, Elective and Complementary support tiers, which will provide comprehensive powers to support our food producers to farm in a sustainable and regenerative way.

However, the climate and nature crises we face, mean that we cannot simply wait for the implementation of these new powers.

That is why we are already progressing and testing our proposed approach through our National Test Programme, delivering action on farm today.

But we will go further. I can confirm today that I will deliver new conditionality under existing powers, for the 2025 Single Application Form calendar year. 

This will use our existing agriculture support schemes to introduce enhanced conditionality, built directly on the work of the farmer led groups. 

It will also deliver on our manifesto commitment and statement in our Vision for Agriculture, to integrate enhanced conditionality of at least half of all funding by 2025.

I am therefore signalling my intention to Parliament, to bring forward legislation to amend the 2020 Act and enable this first part of the transition.

Turning now to the new Agriculture Bill, under the proposed Bill powers, it is the Enhanced Payment, that will be our key mechanism to deliver positive outcomes for climate and for nature.

It also allows for those pioneering best practice right now, to be recognised and rewarded.

I know that this is a concern. Many farmers and crofters have already been leading the way in the actions they have been undertaking on farm.

And it is only right and fair that this is recognised.

During this fortnight of COP 27 it could not be more clear that we need to support our farmers and crofters to tackle climate change.   

Equally, as we approach the biodiversity COP15 in Montreal, the need to restore our natural environment is coming into ever more sharp focus. 

We will soon be publishing a new biodiversity strategy which will set out our vision to 2045 and outcomes that are required to address the on-going decline in biodiversity.

It is for these reasons that I am prioritising the co-development of the Enhanced element of the new framework, and will work with the industry to get this right.

It is my intention that this will launch in 2026, using the powers proposed in the bill consultation.

We will balance the ambition of this approach with the need to take the industry with us on this journey, which will not happen overnight. But it will reflect both the sector’s willingness to engage and our commitment to a Just Transition.

Once we have established the Enhanced mechanism, we will seek to deliver further elements of the Future Support Framework, including Elective and Complementary ‘schemes’, such as future incarnations of agri-environment and farm advisory services. 

Our approach means that the present payment regions will be kept as they are in the early part of the transition.  

I can confirm that we remain committed to reviewing the current three region model to ensure the Tier One ‘Base’ payment is fit for purpose for the future.

I recognise that this statement does not answer all the queries I have had about the exact detail of these schemes.

More information will be made available over the coming months, as we develop our proposals.

But we know that many farmers and crofters are already undertaking the necessary actions we want to see now and for the future.

So I would encourage farmers and crofters to engage with the support that we have available to learn and find out more, regardless of where you are on your transformation journey.

Join the National Test Programme, look at our networks- the Integrating Trees Network, the Agriculture, Biodiversity and Climate Change network, Farming for a Better Climate, the Farm Advisory Service.

These networks and services offer peer-to-peer learning and support and show how things like improving soils, enhancing nature, and adapting or changing practices has improved the efficiency, resilience and profitability of businesses.

 Presiding Officer, today I have set out the pathway to reform of agricultural support in Scotland. 

Scotland’s Vision for Agriculture is about enabling the essential role our food producers play in our food security and feeding our nation, in driving our rural economy,  and in ensuring our world renowned food and drink industry can deliver our climate and nature outcomes.

Only our farmers, crofters and land managers can deliver these outcomes and all of Scotland owes a debt of support to them.

As we transition to the future, I reiterate my commitments that we will communicate clearly, we will ensure there is a Just Transition and no cliff-edges in support, and we will continue to develop the details with our farmers and crofters.

Finally, Presiding Officer, I will reiterate again, my commitment and this Government’s commitment that we will continue to support our nation’s food producers.

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