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A future strategy for Scottish agriculture: final report

A report from the Scottish Government's Agriculture Champions on the development of a future agriculture strategy.


Chapter 2

This chapter sets out our strategic ambitions for Scottish farming, and our headline recommendations for delivering them.

Einstein, inspired by a farming observation, said 'The world we have created is a product of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking'.

There is an opportunity to evolve agricultural activity and support in Scotland to suit the pressures of our time, as part of a more holistic system across the rural and agricultural ecosystem.

Agricultural policy has to be repositioned and seen for its interrelation with food production and the wider food industry, environmental sustainability, regional and national economic development, education, employability and skills development, community resilience, and tourism. The value system on which past policy was based is no longer appropriate; a new one cannot be plucked from a shelf but will need to be constructed.

Ambitions

The strategic ambitions we recommend for Scottish agriculture are:

  • Scotland's form of agriculture will be enviable for its alignment with our land and other assets, in all their biophysical diversity, supported by tailored policies that lead to real commercial results.
  • Scottish farming will take the actions that forearm it for difficult times and justify its support from the public purse.
  • Scottish farming's stewardship of the countryside will protect and enhance our natural assets and will be valued and supported by society.

Headline recommendations

1. Unprecedented changes are coming, on top of longstanding problems. Past policies have led to dependency, inefficiency and inequality in many cases and will not work for the future.

2. Government, parliament, industry and others must cooperate on a 10-15 year strategy for Scottish farming including the transition from the current support system. All must work together to get the best outcomes, facing up to harsh realities.

3. The public must be better informed about Scottish farming and what it delivers, and policies must be guided by real evidence about what the public values. A civic conversation, both informing and listening to the public, must start now.

4. Farm support is not a right, it's an asset given by the public to help farmers and crofters improve their businesses and deliver what the marketplace does not fund. We recommend that a top priority starting immediately is mindset change, to help farmers and crofters to become more progressive, entrepreneurial and resilient in a way that is already the culture in the unsupported sectors. All businesses must keep pace with the evolution of demand and societal preferences, and farming is no different.

5. There must be a transition period of no more than 3-5 years. During the transition, policies should not be changed radically. But industry must not sit back – businesses must use that period of relative continuity to start evolving and making the changes that are needed, while the farm support budget should still be at current levels. We recommend that government cap payments and release money so that new policies and schemes can be trialled and evaluated during the transition period with adequate funding.

6. During the transition period and beyond, Scottish agriculture must ensure it receives everything it is entitled to, whether this is financing or policy-making powers.

7. After the transition period, we recommend that there continue to be an element of basic income support, but at much lower levels. Future farm funding must go on a menu of schemes to boost production efficiency, improve skills and training, and enhance natural capital and biodiversity – capped per farm, and tailored to regional or sectoral needs because one size does not fit all. The cap should be based on current receipts for small/medium recipients but reduced from current levels for big recipients. Detailed policy must evolve, including how new entrants are supported.

8. Farmers, crofters and stakeholders must be involved in the regional tailoring of policies, which should reflect the huge diversity of Scotland's farmland and the resulting regional differences in public value needs and priorities. Scotland has some very high quality land, and also vast amounts of permanent grassland and rough grazing. The specific needs of agriculture in less favoured areas, which is often high nature value farming, must be catered for.

9. Stewardship of the countryside should be a key part of future policy. The policy priorities to be supported must cover purely public goods such as wildlife and carbon sequestration for which there is no market mechanism, at least at present, but can also include joint public-private benefits – such as reducing waste and improving soils which are good for the individual business as well as the environment and society.

10. Support schemes must be kept simple with clear objectives – and must not fall into the trap of trying to please everyone. Existing delivery infrastructure will be able to be used, with the necessary adjustments, but having less complex schemes may release some government resources which can be repurposed.

11. Those schemes must work with, not compete against, other land use schemes and policies. In the long term we recommend that the aim must be integrated land management planning, where diverse activities such as farming, stewardship of the countryside and natural assets, forestry, and tourism are planned and carried out through a single joined-up approach. Farm support policies must be consistent with other relevant government policies and legislation.

12. Farming, like the rest of the economy, will be under increasing scrutiny from a climate change perspective. The international accounting methodology is misleading, because farm emissions are classed as 'Agriculture' but some of farmers' actions to reduce net emissions are hidden under 'Energy' or 'Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry'. Scottish Government policies for farming and climate change must give credit to farmers for all their positive actions.

13. Scottish farmers must grasp the benefits of working collaboratively which will, among other things; strengthen their arm in the supply chain. Uptake of farm assurance and health schemes, which is widespread but not universal, must be encouraged.

14. The supply chain must be properly regulated by government, noting the role of both devolved and reserved powers, to make it operate more equitably. Government and industry must make companies more aware of the various avenues available for tackling supply chain issues, which are not limited to those parts of the chain that are regulated statutorily.

15. Scottish farming must be more visible as a career option and must attract more young people, which will need a huge increase in focus from schools onwards.

16. Generational renewal has been an issue for a long time and the opportunity to address it now must be taken.

17. It must be accepted that some farm businesses won't survive even if current policies were to remain.

18. All forms of technology are moving so fast that Digital Skills Training is absolutely crucial for operational purposes. Also all efforts must be made to assist those with specific difficulties to fulfill their potential.

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