The Scottish Government is currently developing a new Agriculture Bill. The Bill will consider the shape of our new farm subsidy system. To date we have relied on the Common Agricultural Policy designed at the EU level. This is our first chance to create a tailor-made policy for Scotland, in line with our vision for agriculture.
Vision for agriculture
The Scottish Government have outlined three clear priorities for agriculture.
Firstly, Scotland is to become a leader in sustainable and regenerative farming. This means farmers and crofters are asked to play an active role in our transition to net zero, in stewarding nature and in restoring biodiversity.
Secondly, producing high quality, nutritious food locally and sustainably is recognised key to our wellbeing. We all know food is important to our health, but it’s also vital from the economic and social standpoint.
Which is why crofting and land management is seen as playing an important role in maintaining thriving rural and island communities. Ensuring that Scotland’s people are able to live and work sustainably on our land is key to this vision.
Translating vision into action
The scale of ambition outlined in the Government’s vision is commendable. We need to make sure that the allocation of resources corresponds to the challenge at hand. This means some substantial changes in how the subsidy system works.
Firstly, we need to introduce conditions on subsidy payments. To date, the majority of farm subsidies are paid to farmers with few strings attached – they are primarily based on the amount of land owned. If Scotland is to become a leader in regenerative agriculture, we need to set ambitious environmental standards for farming.
Just as importantly, we need to support farmers during this transition. We will need substantial investment in advice services, peer support networks and knowledge exchange. We will also need investment in equipment and infrastructure, allowing farmers access to latest technology such as NoFence and precision fertiliser dosing.
Finally, we must remember that food is at the heart of agriculture. We need a subsidy system that pays farmers to produce the food that nourishes us, not crops for alcohol and biofuel. This means paying more to those who produce fruit and veg, often on comparatively small area of land. It also means supporting urban agriculture, making local food more affordable and accessible for all.
The future of farming is all of our business. Nearly 75% of Scotland is farmland, and we spend over £500 million of public money on farm subsidies. How we use the land and spend that money is of concern for our environmental ambitions, our public health and wellbeing of our communities. We need to make sure a wide range of voices are heard as we design the new system.