National Farmers’ Union of Scotland (NFUS) Chief Executive Scott Walker outlines his desire to see Scotland “equitably” supported beyond Brexit and believes that a managed rather than a chaotic process provides an opportunity to evaluate how agricultural funding is distributed to the devolved administrations.
Outlining a picture of the agriculture landscape in Scotland, Walker says that approximately 80 per cent of Scotland’s land mass is under agricultural production, making the industry the single biggest determinant of the landscape in the country.
Scotland’s farmers, crofters and growers produce output worth more than
£3 billion per year and are responsible for much of the country’s £5 billion food and drink exports.
The main agricultural enterprises in Scotland are: beef, sheep, dairy poultry, pigs and cereals. Scotch beef is renowned the world over and the sector’s output was valued at £675 million in 2018. As well as this, Scotland is home to approximately seven million sheep, approximately 20 per cent of the UK’s total sheep flock.
Where dairy is concerned, Scottish farmers produce 1.5 billion litres annually, an output valued at £352 million. Scotland is also home to 317,000 pigs with annual pork output amounting to 58,000 tonnes, valued at £88 million.
In 2018, there were approximately 14.5 million poultry birds in Scotland of which 6.8 million comprise egg-producing hens and around 6.5 million chickens are reared for meat production. The annual tonnage of chicken produced in Scotland is valued at £59 million. The country’s egg production is at a high, with an annual value of over £88 million.
In 2018, 459,400 hectares of cereals and oilseeds were grown in Scotland. Spring barley is, by far the most important grain crop. Approximately one third of this output goes for malting.
Walker is calling for Scottish farmers to be equitably supported beyond Brexit: “Future support measures must take account of production, environmental and conservation-related measures,” he says.
“There is also a requirement for London to ensure that all future support budgets are equitably distributed throughout the UK.”
Walker points out that the level of CAP funding that each devolved administration in the UK receives has previously been allocated on the basis of historic values that do not reflect the different agricultural conditions in each of the four nations.
He adds that 85 per cent of Scotland’s landmass is deemed to be Less Favoured Area (LFA) compared to only 15 per cent in England, under the current Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) regime.
“For many years, NFU Scotland has argued that the natural disadvantage of Scotland’s landscape should be recognised within the funding envelope awarded via the CAP,” explains Walker.
“It was due to Scotland’s lower-than-average payment rate per hectare, under the previous CAP reform, that the UK was awarded a convergence uplift in 2013 in order to bring parity of payments across the UK.
“Despite this, Scotland currently only receives 17 per cent of the UK’s ‘envelope’ of CAP funding. NFU Scotland considers that Brexit provides the opportunity to evaluate how agricultural funding is distributed to the devolved administrations.”
Walker made it clear that Scottish farmers expect to secure a redistribution of future UK support monies which, if agreed, could have a detrimental impact on the level of support funding made available in Northern Ireland.
Turning to the bigger picture of how agriculture in Scotland can most effectively adapt to a post-Brexit world he said that farmers and crofters are the bedrock of the country’s booming food and drinks industry.
Walker adds: “Farming and food will be prime movers in our country’s economic prosperity. At the same time, agricultural businesses are key to maintaining and enhancing Scotland’s unique environment and landscapes. Leaving the European Union presents the first opportunity in over 40 years to overhaul and rebalance Scottish agricultural policy.
“NFU Scotland is seeking a bold Scottish agricultural policy which will make Scottish agriculture productive, innovative and, above all, profitable, whilst delivering a wide range of public benefits that are increasingly expected as the co-products of active farming and crofting.”
According to Walker, a new agricultural policy must meet Scottish agriculture’s unique needs, providing businesses with the tools to add value, strengthen their position in the supply chain and upskill to become less reliant on support in the longer term.
Change is inevitable, but where Brexit is concerned, change must be managed and not chaotic.
In the face of competing demands for limited public funds, and to better meet public expectations with the wider needs of society, this new agricultural policy must be “geared towards active and sustainable agriculture and encourage positive change”.
He adds: “A new agricultural policy must also incentivise farm businesses to be dynamic, resilient and able to adapt to new opportunities, whilst also delivering good environmental management and improved productivity.
“They must also provide financial stability, but only rewarding the risk and decision taker.
“Government must also act to underpin the social and environmental contribution of farming and crofting, as well as the role they play in the growing food and drinks sector and Scotland’s wider economy.
“Change is inevitable, but where Brexit is concerned, change must be managed and not chaotic.”
Under NFU Scotland’s Brexit reform proposals, Scottish agriculture would be enabled to become more competitive, resilient and profitable.
“Farming will become the essential first link of a dynamic and fair supply chain while also providing essential public benefits,” says walker.
“New and practical options would meet the needs of emerging and developing farm businesses, with an overarching objective running throughout the policy to make all farms and crofts across Scotland more physically and financially robust.
“Financial stability will remain a vital component particularly in the short-to-medium term. But rather than incentivising inertia, a new approach to financial stability would be built on agricultural activity, rather than the simple occupation of land.”
He adds: “Efficient food production and the delivery of public benefits must be at the forefront of any new agricultural policy. The financial stability component must be complemented by a suite of productivity and environmental measures which offer real, practical choices to every farm and croft.
“Sustainable agricultural businesses are needed if desired economic, environmental and social benefits are to be delivered in the long run.
The NFU Scotland Chief Executive concludes: “Scotland’s farmers play a vital role in delivering a wide range of environmental benefits and public goods.
“With over 70 per cent of Scotland’s land mass under agricultural management, farmers are responsible for the stewardship of many aspects of Scotland’s renowned environment.
“A new Scottish agricultural policy can ensure that farmers and crofters continue to deliver for Scotland’s environment and enhance it further. Active agriculture is best placed to manage land for environmental benefit.
“Viable agricultural businesses and food production need not run contrary to achieving positive environmental outcomes and public goods. New environmental measures should seek to deliver primarily for climate change, water quality and biodiversity.
“But they must also embrace habitats, air quality and landscape character in the process, as well as natural flood management, cultural heritage, and public access and education.
“For the successful delivery of environmental objectives, the agricultural perspective needs to be at the heart of all measures, from design to implementation.”