Agricultural reform route map: Ministerial statement

Statement delivered to the Scottish Parliament by Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon on 15 March 2023 on delivering our vision for agriculture through the agricultural reform route map.

It was a little over one year ago that I set out this Government’s  Vision for the future of agriculture in Scotland. 

Our Vision is a positive one. 

Our vision puts farmers, crofters and land-managers at its core.  It values their efforts to help feed the nation and to steward our countryside. 

It recognises their essential role in delivering climate adaptation and mitigation, and in biodiversity recovery and in nature restoration.

Our vision makes clear, that there is a duty owed from our nation to support our producers and ensure our world-leading climate and nature targets are realised.

Farmers, crofters and land managers are vital to our ambition to make Scotland fairer and greener – that journey will be challenging, it will carry risks, but also present opportunities and be transformative. 

I, and this government, remain committed to working with, and listening to, our industry, and all who have the interests of a vibrant and successful rural Scotland at heart, to achieve this.

We want Scotland to be a global leader in sustainable and regenerative farming. 

Many are already leading the way and they deserve praise for farming to produce food sustainably, in ways that actively benefit both nature and climate. 

They need to know that we remain committed to supporting them to produce high quality food while also delivering for climate and nature restoration.

That approach will sit at the heart of how, and what, we legislate for in the future.

Presiding Officer, it is my intention to introduce a new Scottish Agriculture Bill this year to provide a replacement for the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and to provide the required powers and framework to deliver our Vision for Agriculture.

The Bill’s proposals will seek to provide an adaptive framework to respond to future social, economic, and environmental changes, challenges and opportunities.

I will continue to actively work with and alongside the agricultural industry to develop these proposals – I accept that not everyone might agree with our approach. 

But what I hope we arrive at, is a policy and support framework underpinned in statute, that will deliver outcomes that will help us meet our goals, to benefit all of Scotland, as well as farmers, crofters and land managers.

That will involve change – but change and adaptation has long been at the heart of the Scottish agricultural sector.  And many have already embarked on this transformational journey.

We will incorporate what we learn, including new and best practice, improvements in technology, evidence on climate impacts, and we will evaluate delivery to monitor how well we are doing, and where we need to act more urgently or change our approach.

Last year, we undertook a consultation on the Bill.

We are carefully considering the diverse range of views provided and I intend to publish responses later this Spring.  

However, we are not waiting for legislation to act.  In the meantime, we will progress our Agriculture Reform Programme. 

Presiding Officer, on 10 February I published the Agriculture Reform Route Map, setting out the timescales for information and interaction with the agricultural industry.

This route map provides Scotland’s farming and food production industry with clarity and confidence on key dates, expectations, the various measures being proposed, and support that will be available to prepare for implementing change.

There are still questions to be answered – that can only be answered in the bill and the measures flowing from that – but  the Route Map provides a clear set of steps and dates to explain when current schemes will transition or end, and when more guidance, support and information will become available.

This route map fulfils one of my key pledges: that there will be no cliff edges for the farmers and crofters of Scotland.  

It is worth saying again, that this Government in Scotland – no matter what Westminster does – will maintain direct payments and to supporting our nation’s producers.

But there will also be changes, with a proposed future support framework providing conditional payments under 4 tiers: Base, Enhanced, Elective, and Complementary.

The existing framework of support will continue in 2023 and 2024 to provide stability to farmers and crofters.

From 2025, new conditionality will be delivered under existing powers for the 2025 Single Application Form calendar year. 

This will include the foundations of a Whole Farm Plan – a tool we will co-design with the industry to help our farmers and crofters better, and more sustainably, plan their businesses.

New conditions will be applied to some existing schemes to deliver on our commitment to shift from unconditional to conditional support on half of all funding by 2025.

The current Region Model will remain in place in the early stages of the transition. However, it will be reviewed to ensure that Tier One Base is fit for purpose for the future.

From 2026, with the approval of this Parliament, new powers from the new Agriculture Bill will be used to launch the new Enhanced Payment.

The Enhanced Payment will be the key mechanism to incentivise farmers and crofters to undertake actions to deliver positive outcomes for climate and for nature.

Co-development of this element is being prioritised through ‘Preparing for Sustainable Farming’, under the National Test Programme which launched in Spring 2022.

Central to this track is the provision of funding for conducting Carbon Audits and Soil Sampling Testing. 

Over three years (until 2025) the NTP will invest up to £51 million to help farmers and crofters undertake these essential first steps towards more sustainable farming.

On 10 February I also published a list of potential Future Support Framework measures. 

The list sets out the sort of actions we will expect farmers and crofters to undertake under the new framework. 

It is based on the actions identified by academic research and the farmer led groups, as being essential to meet Scotland’s climate and biodiversity targets.

They are focused on their suitability for the Enhanced Tier and there is likely to be a range of additional measures to help achieve Scotland’s nature and climate targets in other tiers of the Future Support Framework.

Underpinning all the measures, is the principle that farmers and crofters should choose measures that are right for their business and are based on their farm plans, audits and expert advice.

The final list of actions in a future support framework will not be prescriptive, but elective, to encourage choice, flexibility and adaptability.

It will not seek to penalise those already achieving a certain level or threshold.

Farmers and crofters therefore do not need to wait before taking action which has been built into Preparing for Sustainable Farming sustainable and the National Test Programme.

Presiding Officer, producing more of our own food more sustainably is at the heart of our Vision for the Future of Scottish Agriculture because it will enable us to be more food secure.

As a result of Brexit and the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, we are now more aware of, and alert to, food supply vulnerabilities and price shocks.

Last year, I established, together with industry, a Short-life Food Security and Supply Taskforce which reported in June.

I am pleased to report that the immediate recommendations from the taskforce are now complete or substantially complete.

For example, I have also now established and resourced a dedicated Food Security Unit within the Scottish Government. 

This Unit will allow us to continue to monitor and respond to issues in food supply and production, to bolster confidence and address risks and issues as they arise.

All of our work and planning is however, compromised by financial uncertainty.

Brexit means we no longer have long-term certainty of funding. HM Treasury have provided yearly allocations for the current UK Parliamentary term. There is no funding commitment from 2025.

This has direct implications on the management of the current Common Agricultural Programme (CAP), including the Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP), and the work underway on the Agriculture Reform Programme.

It is unacceptable and far from the sunny uplands the Brexiteers promised.

Scotland needs long-term funding certainty to enable farmers and crofters to plan, invest and deliver – just as we had through CAP. 

And this funding uncertainty is one reason why we would have preferred to remain in the EU and will stay aligned to the new CAP approach now being implemented by our European neighbours.

But let me just reiterate - we expect full replacement of EU funds to ensure no detriment to Scotland’s finances.  And I will continue to press for this from Westminster, no matter who is in government there, at every opportunity.

Not only has Westminster short-changed Scotland, but it is systematically undermining and diminishing devolution through its approach to international trade deals and the UK Internal Market Act.

This government, and indeed Parliament, remains fundamentally opposed to the Internal Market Act - it is an assault on devolution, imposed without our consent, and should be repealed.

The Act has allowed UK Ministers to introduce the UK Subsidy Control Act, which includes agricultural support in its scope.

We now find ourselves in the egregious position of being one of the few countries in the world to treat support for growing and producing food in this way – and it may prevent us from tailoring agricultural payments to the specific needs of Scottish farmers, crofters and land managers in future.

That matters because of the marginal nature of our land, the relative size of our holdings and businesses, and our ongoing commitment to support farmers and crofters directly.

The Retained EU Law Bill going through Westminster only adds to our concerns, not least in terms of its existential threat to our high animal welfare, plant health, food safety, water quality and environmental standards.

Presiding Officer, Westminster might not care about their environment and countryside – but we do.

That is why Scotland needs the right to choose our own future.

Independence would give Scotland the opportunity to use new powers to pursue priorities tailored to Scotland’s needs.

The UK economy is fundamentally on the wrong path, with no real alternative on offer within the current system.

Not being independent means Scotland is being dragged down the wrong path too: one people in Scotland did not vote for.

Only through the full powers of independence will Scotland have the full range of economic and other policy tools to take decisions based on our own needs.

This will allow us the chance to replicate the success of many neighbouring countries which are more prosperous, productive and fairer than the UK.

That is why the Scottish Government is committed to giving the people of Scotland a choice about the future they want – a greener, wealthier and fairer economy within the European Union, or a sluggish, stagnating economy outside of the European Union.

Presiding Officer, we have embarked on a journey of transformational change, working with the industry to farm more sustainably in the future, for the benefit of climate and nature, and ultimately, for the benefit of us all. 

It will not be an easy journey – nothing worthwhile doing ever is.

But what I see and hear from all the farmers and crofters I meet is a willingness to do things differently, an appetite for change and often an impatience for us to get on with it. 

But we must also ensure that this transition is a Just one, which takes everyone who wants to stay in or move into farming and food production with us.  That is my goal.

We have the ambition, the optimism, the enthusiasm and the talent and skills we need to become a global leader in sustainable and regenerative agriculture.

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