1.1 In June 2015, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment announced plans to set up a working group to deliver proposals to maximise the amount of publicly owned land used to help the farmers of the future, start their career in the industry.
1.2 Details of the membership of the Group are included at Annex 1.
1.3 The Cabinet Secretary's plans coincided with the release of the most recent Forest Enterprise Scotland starter farm. New Entrants to farming were first offered the chance to lease part-time starter units on Scotland's National Forest Estate as part of a pilot initiative introduced in January 2012. The initiative was developed as part of a repositioning programme for the National Forest Estate which also included a wider commitment to maximise integrated land use opportunities on the Estate. Following the success of the initial pilot, the programme was rolled out and in total, nine tenancies have been created on the National Forest Estate; in addition, a further Starter Farm has been created on the estate of the Scottish Government's Rural Payments and Inspections Division ( RPID).
1.4 The Starter Farms initiative is part of a wider Scottish Government commitment to developing opportunities for New Entrants across Scotland. Start-up grants, access to Basic Payments allied to advice and skills programmes are all designed to facilitate entry and allow individuals to develop.
1.5 This report, therefore, broadly sets out conclusions and recommendations that we have reached from the evidence presented before us and that we have been able to attain. We have, however, consciously tried to keep this report short and readable.
1.6 In the time available there have inevitably been obstacles. Key to the work of the group has obviously been identifying the estates of the main public bodies. This has not been possible in all instances. We know that work is underway to remedy this. A summary of the information provided to the Group is included at Annex 2.
1.7 Scotland currently has two land and property registers: The deeds-based General Registers of Sasines, regarded as the world's oldest public land register, and the map-based Land Register that was introduced in 1981. Registers of Scotland is gradually "closing the door" to the General Registers of Sasines and it will, in time, be replaced by the Land Register. Through the land reform agenda, Scottish Ministers have committed to complete the Land Register for all publicly owned land by 2019.
1.8 Once completed, the Land Register will provide a clear picture of who owns what and where and this will assist in identifying starter opportunities on publicly owned land.
1.9 While knowing the extent of potential land available provides the platform to deliver, the real need is persuading public bodies to prioritise suitable land for starter units. We appreciate that public bodies have a duty to deliver the best outcome for tax payers, and understand there exist financial pressures in managing various commitments and statutory responsibilities.
1.10 New entrants are essential for any industry, however the capital requirements of agriculture make farming one of the most difficult industries to enter. There are, however, many still looking to get into farming and evidence proves that entrepreneurs will succeed provided entry opportunities exist.
1.11 We firmly believe that there is a supply of land in public ownership with the potential to provide a route into farming for New Entrants. We hold that these units can offer long term regional economic and social benefits in the form of regular receipts to public bodies, environmental improvements, diversification of the rural economy, local food, public access, renewable energy etc. Those direct and wider public interest benefits cannot be underestimated.
1.12 For the purposes of this report we have, therefore, focused mainly on the prospect of increasing the number of starter units, but as already reflected in the widened remit of the group, as described later, we are conscious that there exists alternative ways to enter farming and through our work we have explored some of the more obvious routes, such as contract and share farming. It is important to build up some good case studies of where share and contract farming are working well.
1.13 We are keen that our proposals are taken forward and are therefore happy to discuss our findings with the new Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity.