14. Scheme structure and delivery
While the above main body of the report outlines recommendations for the setting up of a workable scheme and potential management options, the following section provides a more detailed overview on a possible scheme structure and implementation. This is very much work in progress and ideas will be developed in discussion with ScotGov, RPID and others on how the scheme can be set up to ensure that it is simple and easy to operate, and incorporates the lessons learnt and feedback received from other schemes including the Beef Efficiency Scheme.
14.1. Scheme platform and data handling
It is proposed that the SBCS will be delivered via centralised and interactive online platform, similar in concept to the Beef Efficiency Scheme. Such a platform could be provided and managed either by a governmental or industry body and would be used to facilitate data submission by participants and their advisers, data validation and business scoring using embedded calculations and synchronisation with other online data sources where possible, and monitoring by the relevant official authorities for scheme compliance and inspection purposes.
Within the proposed online application, each participating business holds an individual profile where general business information can be uploaded alongside any data necessary as part of the scheme requirements and chosen management options. The profile consists of separate sections focusing on general business information relevant to provide a baseline for the scheme, and the various management categories and options that businesses may commit to as part of the scheme. External access to specific business profiles may be given to advisers assigned to individual participants to supervise and support, as well as to the relevant authorities for monitoring purposes. An illustration of this concept is provided below.
The data that participating businesses are expected to supply may include both numerical and textual information as well as any documentation for evidence purposes. Given the unprecedented impact of Covid-19 and the resulting difficulties this has created for on-farm visits and inspections, it is proposed to design this scheme in such a way that makes as much information and evidence available via online submission as possible. This will enable inspecting officers to carry out a large proportion of inspections via remote online assessments without the need to travel, thereby ensuring the continuation of business monitoring as part of the grant scheme without any disruptions and delays.
This approach would also help to simplify the inspection process for both the assigned officer and any participating businesses, and reduce the financial expense associated with physically carrying out on-farm inspections.
In order to minimise the time commitment required by participating businesses to upload data, reduce the risk of errors as a result of handling a large dataset, and to help simplify data submission, particularly for individuals struggling with difficulties such as Dyslexia or Dyscalculia, it is suggested that where possible, manual data input by the business should be complemented or assisted via provision of the following:
- Synchronisation with relevant online services to prepopulate specific sections; this may include the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS) / Cattle Tracing System (CTS) database and ScotEID amongst others
- Drop-down menus where there is a limited number of pre-defined answers available
- Multiple-choice questionnaires where several pre-defined answers are possible
- Embedded calculations to generate the necessary result using basic data input without the need for manual calculations and adjustments to be made by the participants, e.g. calculating the calving percentage using data from the Cattle Tracing System (CTS)
In order to avoid any difficulties associated with data handling as a result of the GDPR rules and requirements (General Data Protection Regulation), the scheme should be designed in such a way that makes the scheme participants the collective owners of all data uploaded and submitted. By signing up to the SBCS, businesses agree to making available and sharing their data for the purposes of
- Data analysis and review to enable business (performance) assessment
- Monitoring and validation to ensure scheme requirements and deadlines are being met
- Collective and anonymous benchmarking exercises to feed into industry progress and performance literature and feedback reports where appropriate
- Collective and anonymous results analysis and review to inform policy makers and civil servants, and better guide and target policy-related decision-making where appropriate
- Collective and anonymous data usage to feed into any relevant studies and scientific research where appropriate
The above mentioned anonymised datasets should be made available in order to enable and/or feed into relevant research studies, and any trends and findings should be shared with the appropriate bodies and within the agricultural industry to help inform future policy and provide technical guidance, case studies and real on-farm results to farmers for the benefit of the Scottish suckler beef sector and the wider farming industry. The group recommends taking such an approach in order to ensure that the scheme can deliver multiple benefits and outcomes at different levels that go beyond the main aims of the scheme in return for taxpayer's money.
14.2. Scheme duration and mid-term review
The scheme will initially be run as a pilot and its duration will cover the agricultural transition period between 2021 and 2024. This includes a mid-term review after 2 years to update management options where needed and address any potential issues arising from the administration and delivery of the scheme.
The mid-term review will be used as an opportunity to assess, as far as is possible at such an early stage, the adoption, applicability and effectiveness of different management options and capital items where this is feasible in order to carry out adjustments and improvements as and where necessary. This will help to ensure that the scheme is user-friendly, effective, and can achieve its aim.
Some management options and capital items were considered during the initial designing of the scheme but have not been included due to there currently being limited evidence or no practical tools for on-farm application available, or because they have been deemed to be of secondary importance to other high-impact actions. These may be included during the mid-term review and may be made available to participants to ensure that the scheme is progressive and develops in line with new research and findings. Once the initial pilot scheme has come to an end, it will form the basis of future agricultural support for the Scottish suckler beef sector.
The scheme is open to any Scottish agricultural business that is registered as suckler beef producer with the Rural Payments and Inspections Division (RPID) and other relevant authorities including the Animal Plant and Health Agency (APHA). Eligible businesses must hold an individual Business Reference Number (BRN) and manage a suckler beef herd for the purpose of producing breeding, store and/or finishing cattle at the start of and throughout their participation in the SBCS. Businesses owning cattle for reasons other than to produce beef calves from a breeding herd, or to produce beef animals from a store or finishing unit to supply into the beef market, are not eligible. This includes non-breeding herds and any other cattle kept for non-commercial purposes, e.g. as pets or as a hobby.
There is no requirement for cattle keepers to have a suckler herd, meaning that businesses running a finishing unit without a breeding herd are eligible as well.
For the purpose of the scheme, dairy breeds are excluded. Eligible calves, stores and finishing cattle must have at least 75% beef genetics whilst eligible suckler cows must have at least 50% beef genetics and be bred to a beef bull.
In recognition of the important role that smallholders and crofters play within Scottish agriculture, this scheme is open to cattle systems of all sizes and there is no minimum number of cattle required in order for a business to be eligible, so long as participants own cattle in their own right at the start of and throughout the scheme duration.
14.4. Application process
The SBCS will be introduced as a pilot scheme and initial participation is therefore voluntary. Thereafter, the scheme or parts of it will be embedded into a future agricultural support system and may become compulsory to access future funding.
Once the scheme has been published, prospective participants will be able to access full guidance about the minimum requirements that must be met at the start of and throughout the duration of the scheme, and review the various management options and capital items that will be available. This guidance includes a detailed overview of the required activities and/or expected outcomes along with information about the relevance of and science behind the management options and capital items in helping to improve on-farm efficiencies and reduce net greenhouse gas emissions from the production system. Cross-referencing to relevant scientific and case studies will be available to help businesses make informed decisions when choosing management options as part of the scheme. This process offers the opportunity for applicants to consider and choose different management options and capital items that they wish to adopt on their farm, thereby giving businesses the ability to choose their level of commitment on the basis of what is feasible and applicable within their particular system.
It is proposed that the first stage of the application process will require businesses to express their interest by signing up via online platform that will be used to deliver the scheme, or through submission of an application form. Once registered, applicants should carry out any necessary actions to ensure that they comply with the scheme requirements as outlined further above. Many businesses already carry out (most of) the stipulated requirements, but others will need to introduce appropriate management which may take a few weeks or months.
The second stage of the application process involves confirmation of participation within the Single Application Form. This could involve a declaration of the chosen management options including any capital item(s) that the business wishes to claim as part of the relevant management option(s). A scheme offer contract will be issued to applicants for signing and returning which will finalise the application process.
In order to avoid the risk of creating a competitive disadvantage for any smaller businesses, or cattle enterprises that may already face significant challenges or are otherwise limited in their ability to commit to a range of management options, approval of applications should not be based on a scoring system requiring a minimum level of commitment or uptake of a diversity of management options. Instead, the initial process of application should involve validation of the business meeting all eligibility criteria and minimum requirements as previously discussed.
After an initial period for businesses to register interest in early 2021, the scheme will open for applications via submission of the Single Application Form in spring 2021. Subsequent application windows should be made available on an annual basis to allow new businesses and farms not previously signed up to enter the scheme. Upon successful application and acceptance of the scheme contract offer, businesses will commit to participating for the whole duration of the scheme.
In order to prevent barriers to entry and avoid unintended discrimination of businesses operating on less secure tenure terms, the requirement to sign up and commit for the whole duration of the scheme should exclude any suckler beef producers that are unable to obtain a tenancy with sufficient security to cover the full scheme duration. This includes businesses operating on a seasonal grazing lease or a limited duration tenancy coming to its end before the end date of the SBCS. In such a case, participating businesses should be permitted to sign up for the (remainder) duration of their seasonal/grazing lease or limited duration tenancy so long as there is a minimum duration left between the start date of their participation in the SBCS and the end date of their lease or tenancy. If such a business manages to renew its seasonal grazing lease or tenancy, submission of the appropriate documentation as proof should automatically increase the duration of their participation in the SBCS without the need for separate submission of a new application.
14.5. Initial and annual participation
It is proposed that the initial stage of participation involves capturing general business information. Farm enterprise data will be fed into the online business profile at the beginning of the scheme to capture any relevant information about the farmland area, field system and cattle production system. The general business information includes data about the land area and use, herd size and structure, market outlet and calving period, chosen cattle type/breed and other key aspects required to determine what management options are not relevant or applicable to certain businesses. Irrelevant options may include for example any options aimed at breeding management for finishing businesses, or slurry management for outwintering systems. This more generic farm business information will also form the basis for more specific cattle enterprise evaluation to establish the current and progressive position and performance of participating businesses, and, where necessary, will be reviewed and updated on an annual basis.
Once businesses have signed up to their chosen management options, potentially alongside a capital item claim relevant to those options, they are expected to commence the stipulated activities and/or take steps to achieve the listed outcomes of each management option. Apart from any changes to existing or the introduction of new on-farm management practices, this will involve data capture of varying degrees depending on the chosen management options and will include information relating to the calving performance. The gathering of calving records should commence in spring 2021 which will capture spring-calving herds and any herds calving thereafter. Winter-calving herds will be required to commence data capture from winter 2021/22 onwards.
Clear guidance should be provided as part of the scheme to assist participating businesses with data collection by outlining the type of data that needs to be collected, and the relevant sections within the online business profile should be developed in such a way that simplifies data submission by the participant.