Scotland’s Farm Advisory Service
There is no doubt that the agricultural sector faces some of the most significant change it has seen in decades, with likely changes to trading relationships and markets, increasing environmental concerns and public demands, and revision in subsidy support. These factors emphasise the increasing importance of an agile and adaptable advisory service.
Historically, the Scottish Government's advisory services provision has had a strong connection with crofting. This continues through the two distinct features of the current Farm Advisory Service (FAS) programme: the One-to-Many service and the One-to-One service. These services offer a wide range of advice specifically tailored to support crofters, aiming to:
- Equip the next generation of crofters with relevant skills and knowledge.
- Increase the sustainability of crofts and contribute to environmental and climate change goals.
- Encourage better use of crofting land
- Promote practices benefiting animal health and welfare and productivity.
- Make crofting businesses more resilient in the face of unpredictable change.
Under the one-to-many component, the FAS delivers events such as workshops and seminars, discussion groups, site visits and demonstrations, newsletters, technical notes, email and text alerts, case studies, fact sheets and social media.
Generally, the FAS aims to improve the environment, biodiversity, resilience, and profitability of croft businesses. This is achieved through helping crofters work co-operatively to improve common grazings, supporting high nature value (HNV) friendly crofting, providing clear and accessible information and guidance on crofting law, and encouraging croft land and infrastructure development.
Towards these overall aims, the FAS has delivered, for example, common grazings group development events in consultation with the Crofting Commission, events, podcasts and videos on HNV crofting, web-based videos and decision trees to help crofters navigate regulations, and a 'Derelict to Productive' croft improvement project that includes advice on conservation, woodland, succession, business planning and targeted livestock improvement events.
Building on previous activities, the service includes a series of online meetings, illustrated guides, videos and online tools that aim to encourage more use of croft land, and uptake of efficiency measures, building confidence in the ability to change direction in the face of new trading and subsidy challenges.
Specific objectives include:
- Increased understanding and use of Crofting Commission processes.
- Practical solutions to increase efficiency and mitigate climate change.
- Improved resilience of crofts.
For example, in 2021 the FAS will deliver:
- Future Crofting: New technology and science to help mitigate climate change, delivered through online panel meetings, podcasts and guides. Various topics will raise awareness of new technology and methods of production, provide insight on veterinary and husbandry methods, woodland creation benefits, provide opportunities to quiz experts and researchers and encourage progress to net zero.
- Season with Cattle: A series of events and publication supporting the management of cattle in small-scale crofting situations as small-scale businesses do not benefit from economies of scale and keeping cattle on crofting is a major challenge to the industry.
- Adding Value: This project builds upon previous FAS delivery on polyproduce, Skye Mutton, adding value to pigs and adding value to croft produce to provide insight and knowledge of new trends and opportunities for crofters following COVID-19 and Brexit. Online meetings will explain the opportunities for crofters to add value to their produce, meet market demand, and explore new routes to market.
- Alternative crops and stock for new income streams and increased business resilience: Meetings and guides to help crofters and small holders to prepare for the future, build resilience and help them overcome the challenge of Brexit. Using successful businesses as examples, explain methods of adding value to croft produce, product development, and reducing waste through nose-to-tail / root-to-shoot.
- Crofternomics: Small-scale DIY or money saving ideas, for example installing watering points to allow rotational grazing. The outputs will be short videos and guides, with low cost, low tech solutions to improve productivity and lower carbon footprint.
- Crofting Regulation: Explanations to encourage the use of crofts by letting, transferring and understanding purposeful use. These will help crofters navigate regulation, which in turn will help the Crofting Commission's processing time and encourage better use of croft land.
- In conjunction with the Crofting Commission, FAS will offer workshops on techniques to help grazing committee members with the smooth running and development of common grazings.
Regardless of land size or business stage, the FAS also offers funding for one-to-one advice up to a total of £3,700 that can help croft owners to grow their business, increase profitability, improve sustainability and avoid the common pitfalls to success.
- Mentoring for new entrants, with up to four-days of one-to-one consultancy time with a personal mentor.
- An Integrated Land Management Plan, providing a confidential assessment of individual crofts and help to develop future plans.
- Specialist advice, providing a deeper look at specific issues of concern.
- Carbon audits to measure farm carbon footprint and to suggest areas for improvement.
Adapting to the Future
The impact of COVID-19 on the FAS, notably face-to-face events, continues to be profound. However, the Service is embracing opportunities presented by a higher level of digital engagement and introducing innovative knowledge transfer methods. This is ensuring that the FAS continues to support crofters' ability with the key aims of increasing biodiversity, protecting natural resources and the crofting landscape, meeting crofting regulatory requirements and enhancing crofting businesses.
The Scottish Government's Farm Advisory Service will continue to evolve, respond to changing needs, and ensure delivery of high quality knowledge transfer and advisory services to crofters.
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