Small Producers Pilot Fund Steering Group minutes: April 2023

Minutes of the meeting held on 25 April 2023.

Attendees and apologies

  • Helen Glass, Chair, Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS)
  • Fiona Leslie, Scottish Government (SG)
  • Liz Barron-Majerik, Lantra Scotland 
  • Rosemary Champion, Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) 
  • Flora Corbett, Mull Slaughterhouse and Butchery 
  • Adam Forrest, Scotland Food & Drink (SFD)
  • Diana Garduño Jiménez, Nourish Scotland 
  • Jo Hunt, crofter and Knockfarrel Produce
  • Archie Hipwell, smallholder and supply chain consultant        
  • Patrick Krause, Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF)
  • David McKay, Soil Association Scotland (SAS)
  • David Michie, National Farmers’ Union of Scotland (NFUS)        
  • Abi Mordin, Hidden Veg and Propagate        
  • Justin Orde, South of Scotland Enterprise (SOSE)
  • Ceri Ritchie, SAC Consulting, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC)
  • Debs Roberts, Scottish Organic Producers’ Association (SOPA)    
  • Scott Walker, Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW)
  • Tara Wight, Land Workers Alliance (LWA)         
  • Emma Patterson Taylor, Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS)
  • Alan Stevenson, Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS)             
  • Rona Sutherland, Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS) 
  • Allison Watson, Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS)


  • Louise Hellyer, Scottish Government (SG)
  • Donald MacKinnon, Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF)
  • Fiona Richmond, Scotland Food & Drink (SFD) 
  • Fergus Younger, Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS) 

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

The Chair welcomed everyone to the second Steering Group meeting and introduced Scott Walker, who joins the Steering Group representing the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW). Apologies are noted above.

Minutes of meeting on 28th March 

A request was made for an addition to the Minutes of the previous meeting to reflect the Group’s interest in a cost-benefit analysis being produced as part of / follow-up to the abattoir survey research. The Group agreed to this and wording was provided through Teams Chat function which will be incorporated.

Clarification was sought on the use of the words “could apply to crofters” paragraphs 11 and 20 in the March Minutes. The SG re-iterated that it is the remit of this Group to define a Small Producer and the eligibility criteria for a Small Producer Pilot Fund (SPPF) for the consideration of Scottish Ministers. All areas are up for discussion by all Members of the Steering Group. The word “could” is appropriate, implying that the Group has flexibility to change current definitions. This was accepted by everyone and no further wording changes were requested.

Action point 1 

The additional wording with reference to the abattoir research work will be incorporated into the previous meeting Minutes and the updated version published on the SG website.

Action point 2

Some Members are having issues receiving or opening Group email attachments. Everyone is asked to check their spam folders in case their firewalls are blocking attachments. All documents will be placed in the SG’s SPPF eRDM Connect folder and can also be accessed from there. 

Action points from meeting on 28th March

Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS) actions from the March meeting are completed. The Scottish Government (SG) actions are work in progress, as many of these involve other Divisions and Directorates, or the commissioning of additional research. With regard to Action Point 1 in the previous meeting, on sharing the results of the Small Farms Grant Scheme (SFGS), this evaluation is being undertaken in conjunction with the review of another Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRPD) scheme and could take some months to complete. The SG will undertake to get an informal paper put together to share any interim findings with the Group as soon as possible, before the formal report is completed. This will help inform discussions.

Future subgroups

Four additional subgroups have been proposed, which followed the themes outlined in the original Terms of Reference to support the Steering Group. The Monitoring and Evaluation subgroup will start next; the other three suggestions are open for the Steering Group to adopt, change, or add to. The subgroups proposed so far are:
•    Monitoring and Evaluation
•    Training and Skills
•    Horticulture Demonstration Activities
•    Supply Chain

Members felt that small-scale horticulture is often excluded and should either be treated as a subgroup/topic on its own, or horticulture should form a key part of all subgroup discussions. Further suggestions included considering abattoir provision and the importance of co-ops within the local supply chain subgroup’s discussions. 

SAOS explained that the broad naming and subject area of the subgroups had been taken from the Terms of Reference and the Steering Group could contribute to defining the scope and remit of each subgroup. There is desk research being undertaken in the background and SAOS and the SG will share this workplan to contextualise this against timescales for the launch of subgroups. Members were asked to volunteer for subgroups they are particularly interested in contributing to. It was confirmed that not all subgroups would run simultaneously and most should be fairly short-lived. 

Action point 3 

Members to volunteer for subgroups of particular interest to them (names to Helen Glass, SAOS) by Friday 5th May.

Action point 4    

SAOS to share a plan of subgroup launches and timescales to aid Member decision-making. This information will be given to the SG to post on the SPPF eRDM Connect folder.

The SG confirmed that the budget for the SPPF was £1m for 2023-24 and there was an intention to support the SPPF until 2025. It was confirmed that any costs associated with the Steering Group, subgroups and research will come from that budget. Again, it was stressed that this is a non-capital, resource budget.

Steering group membership

Arnot Tippett, Smallholding Scotland, has resigned from the Steering Group due to other work pressures and Group Members were asked to consider possible replacements. A number of suggestions were proposed and these will be put to the SG.

Action point 5    

Members to put forward their suggestions for replacements to Fiona Leslie, the SG.

Steering group member engagement

SAOS explained that it is keen to get an insight from Members to understand their current activity and that of the organisations they represent. These conversations will feed into a SPPF survey that will be disseminated in the summer to test the shaping of the Pilot Fund. The conversations could be face-to-face meetings, one-to-one, or in a geographic cluster, or could be virtual and all Members will have an opportunity to participate. 

Action point 6    

SAOS will email Members individually to arrange. 

Abattoir survey update (Helen Glass)

SAOS thanked all Members who had contributed their comments on the survey questions and/or had conversations with Fergus. The final draft, incorporating all the feedback, will be posted on the SPPF eRDM connect folder for Members’ further comments. The planned date for dissemination is approximately the 10th May, allowing three weeks for responses.

The timing for dissemination was considered good, as the agricultural shows will be starting around then. However, Members pointed out that many newsletters are published at the beginning of a month and so three weeks was considered a little too short for responses. It was proposed that a Promotion Plan be developed, incorporating all Members’ means of communication and the timescales for each, which will help in deciding the final dates for launch and survey response returns.

It was also proposed that to enable the strongest response, the survey should not be solely digital. Suggestions included paper versions and the option for people to telephone. SAOS will take these suggestions on board.

Action point 7

All Members to email Helen Glass at SAOS with their network communication channels, timescales and formats, by Friday 5th May if possible, as time is very tight.

Action point 8

SAOS to collate this information and put together a Promotion Plan, suggesting revised launch and completion dates and options for survey completion.

Subgroup 1 “Definition of a Small Producer” update

This subgroup confirmed that it will last longer than two Steering Group meetings and it would welcome more Members if anyone else would like to volunteer. The subgroup members reported that initial discussions focussed on size. They felt that the minimum should be around 1ha rather than 3ha, particularly as horticulture can produce a fair tonnage from a small area of ground and that there should not be any hard cut-off points at the top or bottom end of the scale. They also felt it is important to protect artisan production, for example, micro-dairying on a multi-species basis.

As part of the definition, there should be consideration of the activities and behaviours that the SG may want to encourage for local food production and sustainability purposes. For example, producing for public consumption rather than private; consideration beyond food alone – marketing of hides, wool, ensuring the full use of an animal and encouraging biodiversity, carbon reduction, etc.

The SPPF pilot should have a much more transparent, straightforward process for application. It should be easy for applicants to quickly establish if they are eligible or not. If eligible, there could then be a set of criteria to be met, maybe a point scoring system, based on, for example, whether there is a business plan in place, it has conducted carbon audits. Whatever the process and system, however, it should be transparent and perhaps a flowchart of the process would be useful.

Other members of the Steering Group also suggested that area was not perhaps as important in the definition as measures based on production, labour input, or turnover; or that perhaps only the maximum area should be defined and not the minimum. It was also thought that the impact of SPPF funds on the business should be considered.

The biggest issue the subgroup has is that the SPPF is not a capital fund and it feels that access to capital is what small producers really need. The Crofting Agricultural Grants (Scotland) Scheme (CAGS) is very well received, but not open to small producers. The Small Farms Grant Scheme had a low number of applications, but not because it was a capital fund. There is a need to look at how small producers could access capital funding through other schemes if not through SPPF.

The SG responded that if the Steering Group is of the view that access to capital is critical, the case for capital funding would need to be made by the Steering Group and this would need to include consideration of what any capital should be used for. Prioritisation of any funds for the sector would have to be assessed against the SG’s aims and priorities. Its annual budget allocations are subject to the annual budget setting process, in line with priorities and plans, and based on the latest fiscal information. 

Action point 9

Subgroup 1 will take all feedback, comments and suggestions forward into their next meeting and report on further progress at the next Steering Group meeting in May.

Overcoming barriers to training 

Liz Barron-Majerik, talked the Group through Lantra’s cross-border land-based training and support services and explained in more detail how Skillseeder works. Skillseeder is an app and website that allows people to find a range of land-based courses. Over 6,500 courses, workshops and lessons are currently listed from colleges, skilled experts and accredited training providers. Funding for these courses is sometimes available, for example, through the Women in Agriculture Practical Training Fund.

Some Members have already participated in courses found on Skillseeder, others were interested in linking their organisation’s training programmes to the Skillseeder website. It is a straightforward process to take the information from another organisation and incorporate it onto the Skillseeder website.

Skillseeder can monitor searches that are made and identify gaps between what people are looking for and what is available, highlighting potential opportunities to training providers. Sometimes if a training fund is made available, that encourages demand, which in turn makes it worthwhile for training providers to consider developing a course to meet that demand. 

If this Group identifies a need for a course that does not exist yet, providing a support fund may increase the demand sufficiently for a training provider to develop one. Providers will sometimes offer a course with a late future start date and if people sign up for it, then develop a course to fit.

Many of the courses are short one/two days, but these are very valuable, as they encourage learners to undertake further training. Longer term apprenticeships over two to three years are harder to arrange because of the need for an employer to agree to take someone on.

While there is some funding available from the Women in Agriculture Practical Training Fund or the Women in Rural Scotland Training Fund, those funds are only available to women. In Wales, there are funds to support group applications and this Group might also want to consider funding blocks of training.

Action point 10

SAOS will circulate Liz Barron-Majerik’s presentation to Members and it will also be available on the SPPF eRDM Connect folder.

Action point 11

It was suggested that a Training and Skills subgroup consider where any training gaps might be and consider what funding options might encourage both the development of relevant courses and the uptake of training.

Action point 12

The SG suggested that Members might want to look at the Women in Agriculture Practical Training funding application process, which is quite different to others and may be relevant when considering how small producers might apply for SPPF support. This is something Subgroup 1 could consider in its next discussion.

Action point 13

Any Member interested in linking their organisation’s training activities to Skillseeder, should contact Liz Barron-Majerik in the first instance.

Date of next meeting

The next meeting will be on Tuesday 30th May at 10am to 12 noon byTeams conference call.

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