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Suckler Beef Climate Group Programme Board minutes: March 2021

Published: 24 Mar 2021

Minutes of the March 2021 meeting of the Suckler Beef Climate Group Programme Board .

Published:
24 Mar 2021
Suckler Beef Climate Group Programme Board minutes: March 2021

Introductions

Fergus Ewing opened the session, thanking everyone for the work they have been doing at pace.  He was cognisant of the enthusiasm for this project across the farming sector and the collective desire of Farmer Led Groups to make progress.

He suggested that the first stage  of the scheme be on data gathering, with a single announcement on that alongside enrolment.  He went on to say that the announcement of the beef scheme will get things going and demonstrate that the sector is serious about achieving reductions in emissions.

Mr Ewing stated that focus of beef scheme proposal should be on the productive herd, he repeated that he was not in favour of a cattle reduction in Scotland.  He was confident that the scheme could achieve the objectives set using farming knowledge and expertise alongside those devices set out in the Suckler Beef report,  with a focus on increasing productivity and efficiency.

Mr Ewing went on to say that his overall plan was to bring stability to basic payments until 2024 alongside other measures such as LFASS at 100% and forestry.  He added that assisting diversification into agri-tourism, renewable energy was also important, recognising that farming is a business first.  He went on to say that there is lots of commonality between what Scottish Government wants and what NFUS announced in their recent manifesto launch.

He finished, stating the need to have a scheme to get things going with enrolment and data gathering alongside financial support mechanism essential and non-negotiable.

Jim Walker chaired the remainder of the meeting.  He apologised for the policy objectives paper only being circulated to the group earlier in the day.

SBCG ‘Policy Objectives’ paper

John Kerr spoke to the policy objectives paper.

John started by setting out the policy context, going through the proposals set out in paragraph 4.

Discussion

Some Board members said they were unhappy at only receiving the paper today, leaving little or no time for consideration. A number of additional points were made:

  • Very supportive of the direction of travel, marking a really good partnership between government and the sector on climate change/environment, whilst at the same time keeping the productive base. 
  • Important to get the message out there now and set direction of travel pre-election. 
  • Imperative the scheme is launched as soon as possible so that people can begin to change their businesses and the way they operate. 
  • Critical that a whole farm approach is developed.
  • Acceptance of the principle of shifting emphasis from VCS/Greening to SBCS
  • People need to be incentivised to join (with new funding) initially, thereafter only paying for productive animals.
  • Naming of scheme will be important.

John then elaborated on GHG reductions in the paper.

Discussion

Some board members were critical of the suggestion in the paper that there should be a continued reduction in beef cattle.  There was broad agreement that whilst there was no role for unproductive animals that did not mean that the beef supply chain should shrink.  Many members acknowledged that the focus should be what can be achieved through productivity and efficiency, before looking at livestock numbers.  There was general agreement that the Scheme focus on sustainable red meat production.

Other points raised:

  • All farmers will need to adopt the same approaches if climate targets are to be reached. 
  • Reality is that beef is not the most productive, or profitable sector.  Businesses need to be incentivised into the scheme to effect change..
  • A way needs to be found to  offer people an opportunity to go on the journey.  Businesses need to decide.
  • Long term policy cannot be developed without having the right data in place.  The absence of robust data will be  a significant weakness.
  • Businesses should be able to bank on their green credentials.
  • Lessons should be learnt from the Beef Efficiency Scheme if significant numbers are to be enrolled into the scheme.

Steven Thomson elaborated on climate envelopes for and how the figures were arrived at.  He acknowledged that there is an implicit assumption that the livestock sector does the heavy lifting on behalf of agriculture.  SRUC went through the current inventory, allocating things they knew could be measured on farm (acknowledging that there are elements cannot be picked up).  He was clear that technologies are advancing quickly and that things may well change between now and 2032.  Whatever happens businesses will need to focus on the direction of travel and reduce emissions.

John Kerr set out details on conditionality and the proposed conditionality requirements

Discussion

Jim Walker highlighted recent discussions on conditionality in context of the basic enrolment service being developed by the Scottish Government. Claire Simonetta added that there were elements in the table within the policy objectives paper) that needed to be corrected.

John Kerr then provided an overview on Verification, Controls and Reward as well as the conclusions to the group.

Discussion

Some members said they were uncomfortable with the suggestion of  measures potentially being required to control livestock numbers in the future.  Others echoed earlier points that the scheme focuses on efficiency and productivity rather than on reductions in livestock numbers.  One member suggested that a 90k-100k technical reduction  in numbers could come about as a result of greater efficiency, suggesting that the sector focus on higher output with fewer animals.  Another member suggested that the Suckler Beef Climate Scheme limit itself to larger herds, with smaller herds falling under the auspices of any schemes emerging from the Hill & Upland Climate Change Group.

John Kerr reminded the board that although the climate change plan sets a course to 2032 there is a requirement for government to report each year. The approach implemented though this work will be Agriculture’s main tool for demonstrating action to meet its share of the emissions reductions necessary in Scotland.

Potential initial scheme mechanics, and potential payments.

Eddie Turnbull explained the outline proposal on how to develop services that will deliver the scheme, the structure of which had been based on the phasing proposed by the Board. He reminded members that the key to success was the need to continue with a partnership approach with service design principles that meet the needs of the customer.  The key question being considered, was how to take the work forward in a way that meets the needs of suckler beef in the first instance but, most critically  the other sectors of Scottish agriculture, acknowledging that the objective is to take an whole-farm approach within the context of rural land management.

Tracy McIntyre added that colleagues have started with a light touch approach, which will need to ramp up into a full transformation programme. 

Members supported the approach and understood the complexities, suggesting that it was absolutely critical that the user experience be straightforward for the customer to work through (as opposed to consultants).  The development of templates under minimum requirements were highlighted by members.  Such templates are intended to provide a basis for self-assessment by the farmer, with peer support if need be.  Tracy added that any scheme and services that are developed will need to be pragmatic and sensible with proportionate approach to penalties etc.

Tracy McIntyre then set out next steps for rollout of the initial baselining aspect of the scheme and the proposed one off payment mechanisms.  Tracy was clear that there was much to do (e.g. levels of payment, capping, budget, non-compliance etc.) with no desire for unintended consequences.  In the spirit of co-design Tracy invited volunteers from the board to help Scottish Government scope and finalise payment details as part of the enrolment phase.  Tracy reminded the Board members that the launch does not include what the future funding model will be.

Alan Fraser added that we need to demonstrate something that brings people on board saying that if businesses don’t undertake action then they should lose monies awarded.  Alan added that in terms of short term solutions, one could use Voluntary Coupled Support (VCS) under CAP as the starting point with payments based on 2020 data.  Alan emphasised the need for clarity around expectations and timescales for delivery of actions and consequences at the point of making payments to businesses, adding that clarity was also needed on the phases beyond enrolment and baselining.

The following points were raised in response:

  • There was no way of influencing numbers on VCS, but numbers of productive cows on farmer are available outside VCS on existing databases and so allow us to focus on payments for productive animals.  Conditionality could be very easy to check with non-submission of data a breach of contract. 
  • If there a budget of £16 million – is it right that  the headage rate varies?  For example; £150 per cow for first 20 then £50-80 per calf thereafter.  That level of incentive would encourage farmers to get started, without over compensating.
  • If the scheme is to launch the scheme imminently – there needs to be a focus on what is need for launch.  Farmers will need information on templates and guidance at their fingertips.  How can the Board prepare themselves and support the launch .
  • Payment details will need to be worked out before any launch. 
  • Might need to accept VCS figures as basis for scheme at least initially. 
  • The principle of a higher rate for the first 20 animals is important.  Front loading payments critical given higher transaction costs of small producers, key for just transition.  Hill & Upland Climate Group also in favour.
  • Simplicity of payment through VCS is attractive.  A  simple message that farmers can buy into as VCS evolves over time.
  • Livestock numbers need to be capped, including in case of poor uptake.  
  • Need to be careful about what is meant by definitive data and how it is intended to be used. 
  • How does a farmer allocate animals to their breeding herd?  What is a herd? How are cows defined? (on a holding in a productive capacity, total or partial productive capacity? 
  • Stock needs to be well defined.  Ultimately it is all about data – VCS data/combined with Cattle Tracing System (CTS) data will push businesses to take action at some point further down the line
  • An absolute age for heifers  is unworkable.

Tracy McIntyre reminded members that the current focus has to be on trying to launch a minimum viable product quickly.  This does not prevent us from thinking about future and developing certain aspects incrementally.  She reiterated the ask for volunteers to support the work.  Jim Walker agreed to provide names.

Biodiversity & Templates for other scheme requirements.

Given time constraints, the group agreed not to discuss biodiversity/templates.  Members were invited to look at the material provided and feedback to Claudia Rowse.  Claudia added that the templates will require supporting guidance and agreed to discuss with the Scottish Government team leading on scheme development.  Jim Walker added that the Board would like to feed into development of scheme guidance, templates etc.  He proposed establishing a subgroup to feed into Scottish Government on such issues.

Next Steps

Jim Walker summed up the meeting, saying it had been a wide ranging discussion, notwithstanding the papers being issued late.  He noted that the meeting had established a few lines in the sand, citing the focus on unproductive animals as an example.  He reminded members that they  had been asked to consider a very detailed paper on implementation and invited them to go back to Scottish Government with any further points.

Jim Walker went on to set down next steps. He committed to speaking to colleagues about what support they could offer the Scottish Government on scheme development He finished, saying that as agreed details emerge, this group will be required to work alongside the other Farmer Led Groups.

In the absence of the Cabinet Secretary, Andrew Scott summed up the meeting from the perspective of the Scottish Government.  He said that the paper had identified the very significant extent of emissions reductions that were required in agriculture by the Climate Change Plan Update – and in particular the requirements that were associated with cattle and suckler beef production. He also said that in recognising the associated challenges, the discussion had demonstrated the need to make continued practical progress in a way that integrated developments across the various aspects of agriculture whilst at the same building new support systems that were efficient and stable in the longer term.

Jim Walker ended the meeting, asking if it would be helpful to set out what the future looks like from an industry perspective when the scheme is launched and once all the Farmer Led Groups have reported.  He then went on to suggest that a board from across the sector be put in place to guide policy development with support from a core implementation board with sub groups of experts to  support the process.  

Meeting Closed

Attendees and apologies

Attendees and Apologies

Present

  • Fergus Ewing, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism (co-chair)  
  • Jim Walker, Farmer (co-chair)          
  • Alan Clarke, QMS                            
  • Andrew Lacey, SRUC                      
  • Bob Yuill, ScotEID/SAOS                 
  • Claire Simonetta, Farmer                 
  • Neil Wilson, IAAS                             
  • Patrick Lambert, Farmer                   
  • Sarah Millar, QMS                           
  • Scott Walker, NFUS
  • Steven Thomson, SRUC                  
  • Tim Bailey, SAOS                            
  • Andy McGowan, SAMW                   
  • Claudia Rowse, NatureScot

Scottish Government Officials

  • Andrew Scott
  • Eddie Turnbull                                  
  • Janice Smith
  • John Kerr                                         
  • Kevin Matheson
  • Simon Fuller
  • Stefan Hoyte
  • Tracy McIntyre
  • Alan Fraser  
  • Ashley Cooke
  • Heather Curran

Secretariat (Scottish Government Officials)

  • Alistair Prior
  • Derek Wilson
  • Elizabeth Bauld

Apologies

  • Andrew Moxey, Pareto Consulting