Small Producers Pilot Fund Steering Group minutes: March 2023

Minutes from the meeting held on 28 March 2023.

Attendees and apologies

  • Helen Glass, Scottish Agricultural Organisation (SAOS) (Chair)
  • Louise Hellyer, Scottish Government (SG)
  • 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
  • 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)
  • Fiona Richmond, Scotland Food & Drink (SFD)
  • Ceri Ritchie, SAC Consulting, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC)
  • Debs Roberts, Scottish Organic Producers’ Association (SOPA)
  • Tara Wight, Land Workers Alliance (LWA)
  • Emma Patterson Taylor, Scottish Agricultural Organisation (SAOS)
  • Alan Stevenson, Scottish Agricultural Organisation (SAOS)
  • Rona Sutherland, Scottish Agricultural Organisation (SAOS)
  • Fergus Younger, Scottish Agricultural Organisation (SAOS)
  • Caroline Burgess, Scottish Government (SG)
  • Michelle Colquhoun, Scottish Government (SG)
  • Emma Henderson, Scottish Government (SG)
  • James Muldoon, Scottish Government (SG)
  • Lynne Stewart, Scottish Government (SG)


  • Arnot Tippett, Smallholding Scotland

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

Introductions were made and apologies noted above.

Aims and ambition of the Small Producers Pilot Fund (SPPF)
The Scottish Government (SG) explained that the Small Farms Grant Scheme (SFGS) closed at the end of 2022. The intention is to design effective support for local communities and food producers that will also contribute towards SG’s aims of creating a Good Food Nation, achieving Net Zero targets and restoring wildlife and habitats to address biodiversity loss and climate change.  Small producers also have a vital role to play in helping to develop a more diverse rural sector. The Small Producers Pilot Fund (SPPF) will be able to provide support for non-capital expenditure activity.

The Group indicated it was interested in learning from the review of the SFGS being undertaken by the SG’s Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services Division (RESAS) in helping shape the development of a new pilot fund. It was also keen that ways to measure the impact of multiple small producers in a geographic area be explored, as it was felt that their impact and contribution to the local community and economy is not often recognised. The Group felt the Pilot Fund should be able to accept applications from collaborative/co-operative groups as well as individuals.

Action point 1 

A copy of the RESAS review will be made available to Group members when the work is complete

Action point 2    

Consideration will be given to researching the impact that smallholder activity has on local communities

SAOS role within the project

It was confirmed that the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS) will act as a facilitator and resource to help the Group undertake some of the actions it decides are necessary to underpin the development of proposals for SPPF. This could include undertaking research and surveys directly or liaising with outside agencies carrying out that work. SAOS will also provide a secretariat function for the Steering Group and any subgroup that may be formed to help expedite the process.

Steering Group members may claim expenses such as mileage, subsistence and potentially overnight accommodation if asked to attend any in-person meetings, but most meetings will be held online, due to the geographic spread of members. A contribution towards costs is also available to support members to attend online meetings if required, e.g., to cover caring costs.

Action point 3

A guidance note and expenses claim form will be circulated to Group members 

Role and operation of the Steering Group

It was explained that this is a multi-disciplinary Group and the members are here as representatives of their organisations, or as individuals with relevant expertise and experience.  The Group will operate in a Chatham House rules type of environment, where minutes will be summarised and no individual contributions identified.  Press communications will be centralised and agreed before anything is released outside the Steering Group membership.

Action point 4

Members wishing to issue press releases, or who have any queries around communications generally, should contact SAOS and the SG to discuss

Action point 5  

A shared digital platform will be developed, which can be accessed by Steering Group members and where relevant papers, minutes, reports, etc. will be posted.  Until this is established, papers will be sent to members as email attachments

Action point 6 

Membership of the Steering Group and Group minutes will be published on the SG website and available publicly

The SG explained that the timescale for the Group to bring forward its proposals for a new SPPF is the end of November 2023. It was agreed that the Group may wish to establish subgroups to take forward particular areas of action to help meet the timescale. Some of the early themes identified are access to local abattoirs, skills and training, local supply chains, climate change, demonstrating and increasing the impact of multiple small producers in local areas and defining a small producer. The Group has flexibility to establish a subgroup when additional topics are identified and some may cease after a short period as soon as their identified actions have been achieved. 

In order for the subgroups to be effective in delivery, SAOS recommended that the numbers in each are restricted to a maximum of six. As involvement in a subgroup will involve a time commitment, it is also recommended that members should not volunteer for more than one at any one time.

Though the SPPF will be a fund to support non-capital expenditure, the Group may also wish to highlight key areas where capital expenditure may be required to support the desired impacts and outcomes.

Action point 7

SAOS will contact members to explore their interest in subgroup participation

Defining a small producer

The SG shared an infographic with the Group which demonstrated the large numbers involved in smaller farm holdings (3 – 30 hectares). These small farm holdings receive some financial support and therefore have an interaction with the SG. Below 3ha, no support is available, so small producers’ interaction with the SG may be very limited and it is harder to find out information about them.

Group members were keen to be involved in helping to define a small producer and discussed the potential lowering of the 3ha threshold as part of the development of a new SPPF.  Other suggestions included looking at measures other than amount of acreage as part of the definition, e.g. output per hectare, or the contribution small producers make to local food supply.

The SG confirmed that where Tier One support payments are involved, payments will focus on the present customer base, i.e., 3ha and upwards.  However, Tier Three, linked to other outcomes within the SG’s vision for the future of Scottish agriculture, could have a broader scope.  It is within the remit of this Group to explore alternative measures to define a small producer, which could include crofters.

Members were interested in receiving available data on holdings of less than 3ha, on crofts, on splits between upland and lowland activities; educational or non-educational; and organic vs non-organic activities.  It was also felt to be useful to explore any available reports on comparable international systems and their small producer definitions.

For holdings of less than 3ha, the SG confirmed that if their activities involve horticulture, livestock, exporting or importing, there will be some data available, but it will depend on their interaction with the various data systems. 

Action point 8

The SG will undertake some internal research of available information on crofts, small holdings of less than 3ha and 3-30ha holdings to provide as much information as possible to Group members to help information discussions.  Any available reports on comparable international systems and their small producer definitions will also be shared

Action point 9

Where there are important and relevant information gaps, consideration will be given to undertaking or commissioning further research work to fill those gaps

Introduction to the abattoir survey

SAOS explained that this work is designed to build on previous research and recent work undertaken by Scotland Food & Drink (SFD). The aim is to develop a baseline of current provision. SAOS has drafted a survey which will be circulated to Group members and their help sought in two areas: firstly, to check whether the survey is asking the right questions in the right way and to highlight any additional questions that should be included and secondly, to build momentum and support for the survey within their membership and networks, to ensure a comprehensive response. The plan is to launch the survey at the beginning of May.

The Group was supportive of this work and a strategic approach being taken. It was considered important that the survey does not repeat previous research and should include information on what services small producers require, to help scope out the scale and geographic spread of demand. The consultees will include the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW) to gain an insight into what services existing abattoirs are able to offer. It will also be important to understand why some small abattoirs have closed and to learn what the critical success factors are in keeping other small abattoirs operational.

This work will hopefully assist in enabling business decisions to be made: existing abattoirs will be aware of the level and spread of demand for services and it may also highlight opportunities for farmer co-operation/collaboration to co-ordinate demand in local areas, creating greater scale.

The Group asked for the survey and subsequent analysis to produce 'global' (Scottish) figures for the costs of provision of accessible killing and butchery services to all livestock producers.  And an estimate of the increase in local meat sales arising from accessible provision.

The Group will put forward its thoughts on potential solutions once the research identifies where the problems lie. If the solutions lie in finding ways to enable better and more effective access to existing abattoir services, the Group might want to consider this as an option for inclusion within the scope of the Pilot. If the research suggests solutions requiring capital investment, the Group will engage further with the SG.

The SPPF need not necessarily be restricted to on-farm support and could be made available downstream beyond the farm, e.g. to processors. 

Action point 10

Recent relevant reports on Scottish abattoir provision will be made available to members

Action point 11

SAOS will circulate the draft survey to members, who should respond with suggested edits, additional questions and any comments, to SAOS by 20th April 2023

Action point 12    

Members will alert their organisation membership/networks to this work and encourage their participation when the survey is launched

Current funding schemes

SAOS explained that part of the remit to support the Group is to map out the current support schemes available to small producers to ensure no duplication and to identify any learnings or gaps relevant to the design of a new fund. The exercise is not, however, to provide a comprehensive list of all available schemes.  Initial research has identified a number of schemes, both current and recently closed and members’ help is sought in identifying any additional schemes that should be explored where there could be relevant learning.

In discussion, the Group suggested that schemes outside Scotland, such as Farming Connect in Wales and those funded by the EU should also be explored, as should different types of funding model.  It was felt important that funding should be tied to outputs and that eligibility criteria for the schemes is clearly understood. Crofting-specific grants could perhaps be applied more widely and access to any evaluations of previous schemes would be useful, both in terms of looking at their outputs and impacts and any reviews of the pros and cons of scheme management.

Some programmes, such as the farmer-led Rural Innovation Support Services (RISS), provided advice and support alongside funding to explore and develop ideas capable of producing significant outputs. Adaptation Training Funds have also been personalised to individual circumstances. Social investment funds are able to provide staged funding – seed corn funding to test an idea; then access to start-up capital for 1-3 years and then access to further development funds. 

Providing a pipeline of funding could help to future proof the SPPF, but the SG explained that this funding stream relates to annualised budgets.  There are scheme evaluations, some of which were evaluated as part of EU funding, and some were under-subscribed and difficult to manage, so there could be lessons to be learned from these.

Action point 13

SAOS will circulate the presentation on funding schemes to members

Action point 14

Members should review the list and make any suggestions/comments on additional schemes that they think worthy of further exploration to SAOS by 4th April

Action point 15  

Past scheme evaluations and information on alternative funding models, such as Social Investment funds, will be made available to SAOS to build into the research report which will be shared with members at a future meeting

Date of next meeting

Tuesday 25th April, 10am to 12 noon - Teams Conference Call

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