Small Producers Pilot Fund Steering Group minutes: September 2023

Minutes of the meeting held on 26 September 2023

Attendees and apologies

  • Helen Glass, Chair, Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS)
  • Fiona Leslie, Scottish Government (SG) by phone
  • Martin Beard, Smallholding Scotland
  • Liz Barron-Majerik, Lantra Scotland 
  • Rosemary Champion, Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST) 
  • Adam Forrest, Scotland Food & Drink (SFD)
  • Diana Garduño Jiménez, Nourish Scotland 
  • Miranda Geelhoed, Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF)
  • Louise Hellyer, Scottish Government (SG)
  • Archie Hipwell, smallholder and supply chain consultant
  • Jo Hunt, crofter and Knockfarrel Produce
  • Jenna Mays, Scottish Government (SG)
  • David McKay, Soil Association Scotland (SAS)
  • Abi Mordin, Hidden Veg and Propagate Fiona Richmond, Scotland Food & Drink (SFD) 
  • 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)
  • Douglas Bowden-Smith, Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS)
  • Andrew Moxey, Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS)
  • Alan Stevenson, Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS)
  • Rona Sutherland, Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS) 
  • Fergus Younger, Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS)

Also in attendance:

  • Caroline Burgess, Scottish Government (SG)
  • Michelle Colquhoun, Scottish Government (SG)
  • Andrew Mitchell, Scottish Government (SG)
  • Lynne Stewart, Scottish Government (SG)

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

The Chair welcomed everyone to the seventh Steering Group meeting. Apologies are noted above.The Minutes of the last Teams meeting on 27th July were adopted and approved for publication on the Scottish Government SG’s website.

Most of the action points from that meeting are either completed, require no further action, or appear on the agenda for this meeting. The one exception is Action Point 5, which is carried forward:

Action point 1: action point M5.5 from the July meeting

Steering Group members to contact the Scottish Government with any thoughts on how the Food Processing Marketing and Cooperation (FPMC) grant scheme might be further developed.

Cabinet Secretary’s response to the steering group’s recommendations - Jenna Mays, the Scottish Government (SG)

The Cabinet Secretary responded favourably to the Steering Group’s recommendations. She had a couple of queries around the abattoir proposals and would like to see the Small Producers Pilot Fund (SPPF) assist producers in undertaking activities to tackle climate change, such as supporting soil analysis.

It was clarified that all types of soil testing would be given consideration including biological and chemical analysis. The Steering Group recommends that applicants specify what tests they want to undertake and why, to ensure that the tests are focused and results would have a practical application.

Recommendations report update - Fiona Leslie, SG

SAOS has pulled together a draft report on the Steering Group’s recommendations. This is with the SG officials and will be passed to the Steering Group for review. Once the Steering Group has approved it, the finalised report will be officially submitted to Scottish Ministers.

Action point 2

SAOS will circulate the draft Steering Group report to members within the coming weeks.

Action point 3

Steering Group members should consider how they want to be represented in that report – as individuals, or as representatives of their organisations and contact SAOS to confirm.

Skills & training application portal update – Jenna Mays, SG

At present, it is proposed that the SG will host a landing page on its website for the SPPF. Applicants interested in training courses will click on a link which will take them through to Lantra Scotland which will then administer the applications.

Lantra Scotland will develop an application form containing questions it is contractually obliged to ask, such as whether an applicant is resident in Scotland, (as they would be ineligible for SPPF support if they were outwith) and others where the answers would be helpful in ensuring that the support is reaching the intended audience.

Lantra Scotland and the SG are currently reviewing all available courses and those suitable for SPPF support. The SG will circulate the course list to Steering Group members to review. If Steering Group members know of other courses that should be on the list, they should give details to Lantra Scotland.

Training applications and suitability of specific courses for individuals eligible for SPPF support will be decided by a panel. The make-up of the panel has not yet been decided, but it is recommended that it includes someone from the SG, and someone who is well-networked and has a strong understanding of the needs of the sector.

As with the other practical training funds, course costs will be limited to £500 per course except where an individual has made a case for course funding above this amount. Where a course is more expensive, but deemed by the panel to be worthwhile, then the Steering Group recommends that the panel is given the discretion to exceed that limit. This mirrors the approach taken by other practical training funds. Costs for travel and childcare may be eligible on a case-by-case basis. It was agreed that travel and childcare costs should be included in the support available through other elements of the SPPF. 

Peer to peer learning and knowledge transfer activities will be dealt with via applications to the main fund, which will utilise a separate panel. There may be some overlap in terms of who sits on each panel.

Action point 4

The draft course list will be circulated by the SG to Steering Group members. Members should review that list and suggest any additions to Louise at SG and Liz at Lantra Scotland.

Action point 5

Members are asked to submit any design ideas they may have for a SPPF badge that could be used on the website to highlight SPPF eligible courses to Liz at Lantra Scotland.

Outstanding issues to be resolved:

Eligibility – fibre/wool production - Miranda Geelhoed, Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) and Tara Wight, Land Workers Alliance (LWA)

The Steering Group would like to see the sentence re-instated in the Recommendations Report that refers to SPPF support being available for additional activities, e.g. fibre/wool/hides/leather/seed production and possibly forestry products, as long as the applicant is also a food producer.

The Steering Group felt that tourism-related activities should be excluded, as should any additional activities related to non-agricultural animals, e.g. alpacas. The SG has definitions of products that are defined as agricultural, which will be circulated to the Steering Group to use as guidance.

Action point 6

The SG will circulate the agricultural products definitions to Steering Group members

Eligibility – shoreline agriculture – Fiona Leslie, SG

The SG confirmed that the area between low and high tide can be complex when considering food production. Samphire grows above the high tide line, so could be classed as land-based, though seaweed is debatable given its range. Another Steering Group Member highlighted that crofting legislation allows for seaweed harvesting as an additional, supporting activity, though this is governed by separate legislation. It was agreed that referencing the agricultural products definition will be helpful.

There was some discussion around what might/might not be included, but the consensus was that the pilot should be as open and flexible as possible. The SPPF may not receive many, if any, applications that lie in these grey areas and the panel should use what guidance is available in the first instance if the situation does arise. The situation will be reviewed after the pilot has been operating for a while.

Monitoring and evaluation – Fiona Leslie, SG

The Key Performance Indicator (KPI) measures need to be comparable with those used by other schemes and the SG is currently considering the proposals put forward by the Monitoring and Evaluation Subgroup as it looks in more detail at the delivery aspects of the pilot.

Application process – Jenna Mays, SG

The proposal is that the SG will host a landing page for the SPPF, which will be similar to the page used by the Steering Group for posting the minutes and other documents. It will contain details about the fund, eligibility criteria, the guidance documents and have links to the application portals. 

Lantra Scotland has agreed to host the portal for training courses and handle the administration of those applications. The proposal is that Scotland Food & Drink will host the portal for all other applications, with SAOS providing the administrative function.

The aim is to get the portals, delivery infrastructure and assessment panels in place before deciding on a launch date for the pilot. November 2023 has been pencilled in as a potential launch date, but only if everything is functional by then.

Steering Group Members proposed that it was worth considering hosting a Knowledge Exchange Conference towards the end of the initial pilot, in March 2024 and highlighting this on the landing page. An invitation would be made to all successful applicants, unsuccessful applicants and interested people to attend, which would provide very useful early feedback on the SPPF, its operation and application process. This might help to increase the number of applications in future years and ensure that applicants knew what was expected of them, improving the quality and success rate of applications.

Action point 7

The SG/SAOS to ensure that this suggestion is contained in the Recommendations Report.

Potential national projects:

Abattoirs – Fergus Younger, Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society (SAOS)

SAOS has put together a draft paper on the results of the producer survey and the interviews with abattoirs, along with a proposal of what might be possible to help address some of the issues identified. On discussion with the subgroup, it was agreed that there should be some further analysis done on the survey results and the proposal should be developed further. The survey results have now been broken down by region and more detail has been included in the proposal, such as job descriptions for the in-house private kill coordinators (based within individual abattoirs) and for a national coordinator role. A three-year funding proposal has also been included and there will be a further meeting of the subgroup, probably on 5th October to review this revised draft. 

If the subgroup agrees the revised paper, it will then be circulated more widely to the Steering Group Members, survey participants and put forward to the SG to see what’s possible in terms of implementation and timescales.

There was some very useful feedback and learning from the last group visit to businesses in the Highlands, which included Munro of Dingwall, an abattoir used by a number of small producers. Producers found it very valuable to be able to visit an abattoir, understand more about the processing and butchery and some of the issues faced from an abattoir’s perspective in dealing with private kill.

Action point 8

SAOS will pull together the notes from all three group visits and share these with Steering Group members

Supply chain – Archie Hipwell, smallholder and Alan Stevenson, SAOS

One of the key requirements is to help producers understand market supply and demand – through access to knowledge, expertise and through knowledge transfer. The subgroup was asked to provide more examples of what types of activity could be undertaken and the revised paper has tried to do this. It has been populated with case studies, example measures, potential short, medium and long-term outcomes and shows how these would contribute towards meeting the SG policy targets. 

There is the potential to develop a range of guidance, toolkits, etc., to more widely support producers that have common issues. Facilitating peer group discussions to identify those common areas would be useful and Lantra Scotland proposed that training could be provided to ensure that there was a wide network of effective facilitators in place to enable these group discussions to be as effective as possible. Those facilitators would be equally useful in helping to spread the knowledge back out to producers.

Members proposed that if the SPPF were able to support smaller producers in achieving accreditation and certification, this would add value, potentially reduce costs and improve sustainability. Many producers would like to join assurance and accreditation schemes, e.g. organic, but the cost is prohibitive if you are farming on a very small scale.

One of the new EU rules coming into force in December 2023 is for all farms to have annual vet visits if their meat products are going to be exported to the EU. If small producers were members of the QMS Farm Assurance scheme they would be able to meet that requirement, so it was suggested that support for accreditation also include membership of those schemes.

Action point 9

If Steering Group Members would like to add anything to the revised supply chain paper, please feed their comments back to Archie Hipwell.

Action point 10

The SG/SAOS to ensure that the suggestion of SPPF support for accreditation and certification is contained in the Recommendations Report.

Small-scale seed trialling and equipment testing – Jo Hunt, Knockfarrel Produce

There are two aspects to this: one is identifying suitable seeds for growing more of our own fruit and vegetables in Scotland in a changing climate; and the second is sourcing suitable small-scale equipment, which is not readily available on the market.

It is important to start some trialling work now to be ready for the 2024 growing season and initial enquiries have identified a number of firms willing to be involved in conducting trials for both seed and equipment. The subgroup has looked at the potential funding that would be required for a pilot project to cover expert input, payment to farmers and the purchase of small capital equipment, possibly around £150K.

The subgroup felt that there should be one assessment panel to cover applications that came forward for both seed and equipment testing trials and that the panel should include relevant experts in each area. Discussions are currently underway with the SG as to how this type of project would be funded: whether it would be through the SPPF grant process, or whether it would be through a procurement process.

Action point 11 

The subgroup will continue its discussions with the SG to decide on the most appropriate funding routes for this type of support activity.

Capex paper – Jo Hunt, Knockfarrel Produce and Justin Orde, South of Scotland Enterprise (SOSE)

The Steering Group has identified the need for capital expenditure to sit alongside the SPPF resource programme. The Food Processing, Marketing and Cooperation Grant Scheme (FPMC) tends to award larger sums to processing companies and there is a need for small, local, primary producers to be able to access a small capital grant scheme, perhaps up to £50K, to allow them to develop their supply chains and get their products from field to fork.

Another issue for small producers is that existing capital grant schemes are paid in arrears, requiring producers to have significant capital outlay upfront. Borrowing from a bank is difficult as the rates of return on capital for small farms are almost non-existent.

A draft paper has been put forward for Steering Group Members to review and comment on, which will then be shaped into a formal proposal to put to the SG. There is insufficient time within this meeting to discuss the paper, but it will be on the agenda for the October meeting and, in the meantime, Steering Group members are asked to submit their thoughts and comments on the draft to Jo at Knockfarrel Produce and Justin at SOSE by 10 October 2023.

Action point 12

Steering Group members to send their comments on the draft paper to Jo at Knockfarrel Produce and Justin at SOSE by 10 October 2023.

Action point 13

Jo and Justin will re-draft and submit a revised paper to Steering Group members in advance of the next meeting on 31 October 2023.

Action point 14

Discussion of the Capex paper to be added to the agenda for the next meeting on 31 October 2023.

Scottish Smallholder Festival – Martin Beard, Smallholding Scotland

There have been some changes to the programme as the Cabinet Secretary is unable to attend and therefore the SPPF will not be launched at this event. There will no longer be a panel session in the afternoon for the subgroup chairs to discuss the SPPF, however, there is still a great line-up of speakers, including Jo Hunt from Knockfarrel Produce, so all Steering Group Members are encouraged to attend and share details about the event with their memberships and networks. 

Jenna Mays, SG, clarified that the Cabinet Secretary regretted she was unable to attend due to diary clashes and commitments elsewhere and emphasised that the Cabinet Secretary still keenly supported both the festival and the SPPF. The Cabinet Secretary will still bring forward the SPPF and a date has yet to be agreed.

Action point 15

Steering Group members to share details of the event with their memberships and networks to encourage attendance on the 14 October at Ingliston.

Date of next teams meeting

The date of the next meeting will be on Tuesday 31 October, 10am – 12 noon

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