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 3

In this chapter we list the actions we recommend, for government, industry bodies, individual farmers and crofters and others, in order for our strategy to be delivered.

This is not an exhaustive list; further actions are bound to be identified over time following wider consultation.

We have listed the recommendations according to the themes in our interim report.

Public value

  • There is inadequate information on the state of public attitudes to farming in Scotland, and therefore on the baseline from which any campaign is starting. The recent poll by Survation on behalf of Scottish Environment LINK is a positive contribution but we recommend that government commission a baseline survey on public attitudes which should include testing the impact on attitudes of the level of information the public has.
  • Government, in partnership with industry, should establish an information campaign and communications strategy, so that over time the public gains a better understanding of the industry.
  • Government and industry should also invest in developing a societal brand which shows taxpayers how their money is invested, producing safe, healthy food from sustainable farmland but also sequestering carbon, helping adapt to climate change and safeguarding wildlife. Ireland has been investing in its 'Origin Green' branding. Scotland should investigate our version of such an approach.
  • There should be follow up surveys at intervals to check on the evolution of opinion and the effectiveness of the information and branding campaigns.


  • We recommend a transition stage for 3-5 years, with scope for targeted improvements but with the emphasis on stability. The transition must not be so long that businesses put off starting the process of change – they must use the time productively to prepare for the future.
  • We recommend that government, in consultation with industry, must use the transition period to experiment and to pilot the new approaches that will be needed. In the absence of new money, this should be funded by capping payments at a much lower level than at present.

Transformational change

  • We recommend that government should introduce schemes as soon as possible to support farmers and crofters in changing mindset and with the adaptation of their businesses, building on the existing one-to-one farm advisory offer. Topics covered must include collaboration and where appropriate the possibility of retirement or exit. Schemes should reflect regional circumstances and opportunities. The accredited consultants also need training in mindset change as they are among the main agents to facilitate change.
  • The mindset needed is one of a professional, modern businessperson who works with the needs and preferences of their customer – whether that is the food supply chain paying for a product, or the government paying for public value on behalf of society, or both.
  • Farmers and crofters must take advantage of such schemes and also other options such as business support groups or private sector advice/consultancy. Where change is needed, businesses must begin it during the transition period.
  • We recommend that government must continue to support and consider expanding existing schemes such as Rural Leadership, whilst ensuring consistency of approach.
  • We recommend that government should review its farm advice offer to see if it can deliver more on mindset change and business skills.
  • We are aware that some farmers and crofters, including some of those who would benefit most, do not habitually take part in initiatives aimed at helping them. To address this, government should investigate the possibility of a broad-scope mindset change tool that could be put online and be accessible to every farmer and crofter. The tool could cover topics such as improving production efficiency, producing for the market, diversification, and collaboration.
  • Industry bodies must encourage farmers and crofters to face up to the reality of the challenges the sector will face, and to take advantage of all available initiatives whether from government, industry or others. Ongoing support payments must be conditional over time upon recipients accepting and embracing schemes and initiatives designed to enhance production efficiency or education/skills training, or public value or natural capital benefits including biodiversity.
  • Consideration should be given to including in farm support policies the option of retirement plans and/or exit strategies for individuals or businesses for whom that is appropriate, potentially linked with bringing in a new entrant with a sound business plan. Examples could be degressive farm payments above an age threshold if no-one has been nominated to take over the business, innovative business models, or tax breaks to encourage generational renewal.
  • Support must be given to existing farm businesses to develop succession plans and encourage the earlier involvement of younger generations in decision-making.
  • Relaxation in the planning system to allow more housing in rural areas would assist the process of generational renewal on farms.
  • New rules on migration will cause a range of issues with future labour availability, both seasonal and permanent, but there is a particular need for a solution for seasonal agricultural workers.

Natural capital

  • There is the need for a multi objective set of land use and management policies. The present system is fragmented because of different policy imperatives acting in silo fashion, for example on forestry expansion and timber supply, on renewable energy installations, on biodiversity protection, on protecting wildland, on flood management and on agricultural support.
  • Those policies should be aimed at the twin objectives of enhancing Natural Capital and improving Production Efficiency – for instance peatland restoration in conjunction with grazing management.
  • Future policies must be based on the best evidence about the challenges that need addressing, and as part of the solutions must encourage data to be collected and acted upon. This can simultaneously support improved nutrient management and water quality, improved performance, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and soil erosion.
  • Scotland's Natural Capital varies hugely across the country so future policies must avoid the trap of one-size-fits-all. In particular Scotland has huge areas of less favoured permanent grassland and rough grazing, where high nature value farming is both traditional and common. Future policies must address the specific needs of this type of farming, including the fact that low profitability threatens its very survival. Income support schemes like LFASS and the Scottish Upland Sheep Support Scheme, and improvement schemes such as the Beef Efficiency Scheme, should be retained and built upon, whilst looking for opportunities to simplify them. They should encourage production which matches and evolves with the market.
  • Farmers must be encouraged to reduce waste in production systems, for example by testing their animal, crop and soil health. Any funding in this regard must require them not just to collect data but to act on the results with measurable improvements. Reducing waste will lead to lower greenhouse gas emissions per unit of output.
  • We recommend that support be delivered through a menu of targeted options which in total are wide-ranging but should be tailored to regional and sectoral needs. These options should be available in addition to basic income support and other schemes, and the overall total should be capped for the individual farm.
  • We expect that pressure from lobby groups will put increasing downward pressure on the availability of agrochemicals for crop and livestock production. The industry should therefore be encouraged to engage with the main research providers on strategies to deal with this, which might include new plant varieties benefiting from advanced breeding techniques, animal husbandry best practice, biocontrol technology and products to replace synthetic chemicals.
  • Enhancing soil health is vital to safeguarding the capacity of soil to function as a vital living ecosystem for the benefit of plants, animals and humans. Water quality and food security for future generations are underwritten by the capacity of soils to function. Soil testing, analysis and remedial activity combined with the use of technology ( e.g. drones and precision farming techniques) aimed at improving production efficiency should be supported in all farming enterprises. Some projects could be conducted at holding level, others on a collaborative basis with the benefits being shared collectively.
  • Farming is the bedrock of rural land use but it does not exist in isolation. Scotland needs to increase its area of forestry, for both timber production and climate change reasons, and peatland restoration will become increasingly important for carbon sequestration. Our land must be capable of supporting other activities and objectives as well as farming, whether commercial ones like tourism or public ones such as habitat preservation. Farm support policy must work with, not against, other land uses, and farmers and crofters should see them not as threats but as alternative options.

Production Efficiency

  • To address the stagnation of farm productivity, we recommend that income support with little or no requirement for real farming activity should be reduced drastically; support based on farm and regional activity and production should be retained, including headage payments where appropriate; but there should be major new focus on policies and schemes to support production efficiency - such as the expansion of compulsory electronic identification ( EID).
  • These new policies must include a major increase in knowledge transfer effort, to help the industry reap the benefits of both existing and new research and development on, for example, reducing animal diseases or improving soil organic matter. Communication is key, clearly showing farmers how it can be relevant and meaningful, and adding realism and consistency into the system. Inspiration must be taken from best examples from within Scotland and beyond. Businesses in the farm supply chain deliver a lot of advice via their field staff, and public-private methods of knowledge transfer should be explored.
  • There should be more advice and training, and in particular greater emphasis on business skills as well as technical farming and land management skills. Where current initiatives have been successful, such as Monitor Farms which provide a valuable link with up-to-date research, they should be built on or expanded.
  • Production efficiency schemes must not be one-size-fits-all but must be tailored to the different needs of agricultural businesses in different regions and sectors.
  • Government must encourage participation in performance measurement and improvement schemes such as benchmarking.
  • More businesses should be encouraged to take part in assurance schemes, uptake of which is widespread in some sectors but not universal. Assurance schemes must evolve to keep pace with changing market conditions and legislation. Assurance should be aligned with the aspiration to create a societal brand which ties into the economic contribution of agriculture, as promoted by Scotland Food & Drink in their Ambition 2030 document.
  • We recommend that compulsory EID must be expanded, at the earliest opportunity, and in the long term the data it generates should be integrated into farm assurance schemes.
  • Government and industry should consider the potential to make future support payments contingent on participation in business or enterprise improvement schemes or training – noting that many industries have compulsory Continuing Professional Development ( CPD).
  • Even if the farm support budget is successfully retained at current levels, there will always be more potential demand than there is money. To squeeze the most benefit for the industry out of whatever budget is available; government must look at the use of loans/financial instruments in situations where investment will benefit the individual private business as well as the public.
  • Financial support must be made available for investments on farms: to improve production efficiency and marketable yields through innovation and new technology, to support basic farm investments such as drainage, fencing and livestock handling facilities, to enable environmental projects such as recreating wetlands, and to underpin shared and collaborative use of capital items such as mobile abattoirs or handling facilities.
  • Collaboration should also be encouraged in the area of collective purchasing, to reduce costs through the procurement of consumables, such as fuels and oils, fertilisers and medicines.
  • Farmed deer is a specific area where there seems to be potential for growth, which should be supported – subject to the normal identification, traceability and food safety rules.
  • Where public money is being spent there will always be a need for audit and inspections. Government should explore making greater use of new technology, such as drones, to reduce physical inspections and save administrative costs. Inspections should be co-ordinated, integrated and streamlined.
  • Producers and industry bodies should consider a carcass classification scheme for sheep, to primary producers and the whole supply chain to supply product well matched to the market(s).


  • At school level there should be:
    • A coordinated approach to support Skills for Work so that there is genuinely a "Career for All", illustrating the very large number of qualifications which can emanate from a Rural Skills Course.
    • A coordinated approach to identify best practice at schools teaching Rural Skills at Level 4 so that it can be rolled out nationally.
    • A method of supporting regions such as Aberdeenshire, Dumfries & Galloway who are piloting Rural Skills at schools.
    • Continued work to develop a National Progression Award at Level 5 at schools so that it can be rolled out nationally.
    • A focus on building on Rural Skills Level 4, and Rural and Environmental Studies Level 5, and in due course a Needs Analysis for a Foundation Apprenticeship for rural skills.
    • A focus on increased vocational training, and in due course a Needs Analysis for Graduate Apprenticeships for agriculture, forestry, and other land-based industries.
  • To improve the way in which career opportunities in farming and related sectors are illustrated and communicated in schools, there should be:
    • Development of the various existing initiatives, for example in Moray and Dumfries & Galloway, to leverage off them.
    • More industry involvement with the 21 existing Regional Leads and coordination of activities.
    • More training of teachers and the various types of industry Ambassador, in what the career possibilities are, and a Toolkit to illustrate course content, qualifications and career opportunities.
    • Coordination of the work done by various bodies and organisations on resources including videos showing career opportunities (My World of Work, Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs, Lantra, Chartered Institute of Forestry, Food & Drink Federation of Scotland), to ensure consistency and availability.
    • More detailed labour market intelligence for all of the sectors involved.
  • At pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship level there should be:
    • work to develop the principle of a pre-apprenticeship, building on existing initiatives such as the Ringlink internship programme, including how best it can be funded sustainably (including the potential for wider industry funding), the possibility of a new qualification, and how it can be rolled out nationally.
    • National roll out of existing Modern Apprenticeships and National Occupational Standards, and continued work to develop the new Technical Apprenticeship.
    • Expansion of the Rural Skills Modern Apprenticeship with new pathways as well as estate maintenance and environmental management.
    • Centres of expertise where skills' training is done and research and imaginative training methods are used.
    • A re-examination of the costs of training to ensure initiatives are fully costed.
    • The inclusion of self-employment skills.
    • Recruitment of new trainers, instructors, assessors and verifiers.
    • Consideration of Shared Apprenticeships, which have the potential to help where rural microbusinesses have insufficient time for mentoring and supervision of an apprentice, building on pilots under Opportunity North East ( ONE) and the Fife Rural Skills Initiative and including the need for sustainable funding.
  • We recommend particular policies are implemented by government to address the difficulties of form filling by those with dyslexia.
  • To address the age demographic of Scottish farming, existing new entrant initiatives such as Farming Opportunities for New Entrants, the Farm Advisory Service's New Entrant Programme and the SRDP new entrant grants and establishment grants must be continued with and built upon.

Supply chain

  • Government and industry bodies including SAOS must encourage more businesses to take part in collaboration, which should become embedded in training and business practices. Government should consider investing in supply chain improvement programmes, through both vertical and horizontal collaboration. Such programmes should include expert knowledge and facilitation, particularly in the most challenging sectors such as those currently unsupported under the CAP.
  • Government must continue to provide grants towards collaborative capital investment in buildings and plant in the food and drink industry.
  • Scottish businesses must think globally and benefit from the knowledge developed by farmer cooperation around the world.
  • In order to build a stronger, sustainable and resilient supply chain, there is the need to build open and collaborative relationships where the relevant players understand each other's needs and challenges. Producer groups must share data and collaborate to generate product that meets market demand.
  • Food fraud includes both selling food which is unfit and potentially harmful, and the deliberate misdescription of food. Food producers should seek support to ensure that they can map their supply chain; identify risks and prioritise their findings; make a plan, implement measures, review and communicate success. Agricultural stakeholders must be more alert to the growing prevalence of food fraud, and capitalise on Scotland's robust position in conjunction with Food Standards Scotland and existing HACCP standards.
  • We recommend that globally recognised geographical indicators are further investigated to protect the provenance and integrity of Scotland's natural larder.
  • The supply chain must be regulated effectively to avoid unfair trading practices, building on the work of the Grocery Code Adjudicator and the Small Business Commissioner, and businesses must be made more aware of the options open to them under the regulatory systems in place.


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