Clarity is still lacking for Highland farmers and crofters
Holyrood Diary by Edward Mountain
The eagerly awaited Agricultural and Rural Bill was recently published. According to the Scottish Government, the bill aims to deliver its Vision for Agriculture by “helping Scotland’s farmers and crofters to produce more of what we eat more sustainably”.
One of the key facets of the bill is that it expects the agricultural sector to do much of the heavy lifting to meet Scotland’s climate, nature, and net zero goals.
The government further states that the bill has been designed to provide a support framework for farmers and crofters that can respond to future social, economic, and environmental changes.
After waiting for so long for the government to publish this bill, it was expected that it would lay out a strategic plan for agriculture. It is, however, clear that the government’s claims for the bill have fallen short.
The bill is disappointingly devoid of any specific policy. It most certainly does not deliver on any key ambitions, and so, unfortunately, the bill has failed to fill in the policy void that farmers and crofters currently face, leaving them uncertain and unclear on their futures.
Whilst the NFUS have welcomed the "framework" bill, they have stated how it lacks essential details that farmers and crofters need to plan and implement change. They have also emphasised that the legislation must work with farmers and crofters if the goals of the legislation are to stand any chance of success.
While I welcome the publication of this long-overdue legislation, I question how the government can expect farmers and crofters to work with them if they remain in the dark over the future operation of the bill and how the support mechanisms will work.
Furthermore, how can farmers be expected to lead the way on sustainability goals if they are not provided with the information they need to plan for the future and implement change? These are the type of questions that will need to be gleaned from the government during parliament’s scrutiny of the bill.
The bill also contains no reference to the four-tiered payment structure that the Scottish Government announced in its Vision for Agriculture. The bill, of course, is framework legislation that will enable such a structure to be implemented, but our farmers and crofters deserve greater clarity on how this structure will operate.
For example, we need further clarity on how much of the agricultural budget will be weighted towards base level payments and if the Scottish Government will commit to multi-annual funding.
Since the bill is unspecific in so many areas, it is possible that the government could interpret the legislation as they please and create a payment structure that may not be suitable for the needs of our farmers and crofters.
It is vital that the process going forward is transparent for farmers.
Our farmers and crofters deserve better, and my Scottish Conservative colleagues and I will actively scrutinise this legislation to ensure that a fair funding settlement is implemented.
- Edward Mountain is a Scottish Conservative MSP for the Highlands and Islands.