Meeting of the Parliament
Meeting date: Wednesday, March 15, 2023
Official Report 950KB pdf
Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Agriculture, Motion without Notice, Decision Time, Camping
The next item of business is a debate on motion S6M-08212, in the name of Mairi Gougeon, on delivering the Scottish Government’s vision for agriculture through the agricultural reform route map. I invite members who wish to participate in the debate to press their request-to-speak buttons now, or as soon as possible.14:48
It was a little over a year ago that I set out the Government’s vision for the future of agriculture in Scotland. Our vision is positive and puts farmers, crofters and land managers at its core and values their efforts to help feed the nation and steward our countryside. It also recognises their essential role in delivering climate adaptation and mitigation and in biodiversity recovery and nature restoration. Our vision makes clear that our nation has a duty to support our producers and ensure that our world-leading climate and nature targets are realised.
Farmers, crofters and land managers are vital to our ambition to make Scotland fairer and greener. That journey will be challenging and will carry risks, but it also presents opportunities and can be transformative. I and the Government remain committed to working with and listening to our industry and all who have the interests of a vibrant and successful rural Scotland at heart, so that we can achieve our ambition.
We want Scotland to be a leader in sustainable and regenerative farming. Many are already leading the way, and they deserve praise for farming to produce food sustainably in ways that actively benefit nature and the climate. They need to know that we remain committed to supporting them to produce high quality food while also delivering for climate and nature restoration.
Would the cabinet secretary agree that one of the best things that we could do is ensure that our farming produce is procured locally, especially in public procurement, and that a lot of work still has to be done in that area to support our farming communities?
The member raises an important point. We have so much power through public procurement, and a lot of improvement can be made in that area. A lot of that will also tie into what we intend to bring forward through the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Act 2022, which was passed by the Scottish Parliament last year and what we can produce through our good food nation plans. I look forward to working with the member as we develop that.
The approach that I talked about will sit at the heart of what we legislate for, and how, in the future. It is my intention to introduce a new Scottish agriculture bill this year to provide a replacement for the common agricultural policy and to provide the required powers and framework to deliver our vision for agriculture.
The proposals for the bill will seek to provide an adaptive framework to respond to future social, economic and environmental changes, challenges and opportunities. I will continue to actively work with and alongside the agriculture industry to develop those proposals. I accept that not everyone will agree with our approach, but I hope that we arrive at a policy and support framework, underpinned in statute, that will deliver outcomes that will help us meet our goals to benefit all of Scotland as well as farmers, crofters and land managers.
During the past few days, Shepherd and Wedderburn said that farmers will have short notice of the conditions and payment details to comply with ahead of implementation. What would the cabinet secretary say to the Climate Change Committee, which has also said that the route map is too slow to meet emission target goals?
I have not seen the comments that the member referenced, but I would be happy to look at that matter in more detail. It is important that we can set out in our route map when we can implement those changes—as I will discuss later—because showing when the transition will happen is critical to give the industry more clarity and certainty as we move forward. There is only so much that we can do at each stage, but the phasing of that, and informing people of what we look to implement as we make those changes, are critical as we deliver a just transition.
What I have mentioned will involve change, but change and adaptation has long been at the heart of the Scottish agriculture sector, and many have already embarked on this transformational journey. We will incorporate what we learn—including new and best practice, improvements in technology and evidence on climate impacts—and we will evaluate delivery to monitor how well we are doing and where we need to act more urgently or change our approach.
Last year, we undertook a consultation on the bill. We are carefully considering the diverse range of views provided, and I intend to publish responses later this spring.
However, we are not waiting for legislation to act. In the meantime, we will progress our agriculture reform programme. On 10 February, I published the agriculture reform route map, which sets out the timescales for information and interaction with the agricultural industry. The route map provides Scotland’s farming and food production industry with clarity and confidence on key dates, expectations, the various measures being proposed and the support that will be available to prepare for implementing change.
There are still questions to be answered, which can only be answered in the bill and the measures flowing from it, but the route map provides a clear set of steps and dates to explain when current schemes will transition or end and when more guidance, support and information will become available.
The route map fulfils one of my key pledges: that there will be no cliff edges for the farmers and crofters of Scotland. It is worth saying again that no matter what Westminster does the Government in Scotland will maintain direct payments and support our nation’s producers.
However, there will also be changes. A proposed future support framework will provide conditional payments under four tiers: base, enhanced, elective, and complementary. The existing framework of support will continue in 2023 and 2024 to provide stability to farmers and crofters.
From 2025, new conditionality will be delivered under existing powers for the 2025 single application form calendar year. That will include the foundations of a whole farm plan, which is a tool that we will co-design with the industry to help our farmers and crofters to plan their businesses in a more sustainable way.
Will the cabinet secretary give way?
I have already taken a couple of interventions so I would like to make progress unless it is a brief point.
Yes, it is really important. The route map is not much comfort to farmers because it is not structured enough to allow them to take seasonality into account. They need to plan ahead five or 10 years, particularly for breeding patterns and crop rotations.
Cabinet secretary, I can give you back the time for the interventions.
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
I say to Rachael Hamilton that that is where our work in co-developing the system with the industry is important. I would like to think that, in the meantime, the route map provides stability and clarity as to how long the schemes that are in place at the moment will continue and when we expect them to transition. I come back to the point that there will be no cliff edges in the support that we are providing for our farmers and crofters. We will ensure that there is a transition. We do not have all the answers and details on the route map, but it points out when that information will become available.
New conditions will be applied to some existing schemes to deliver on our commitment to shift from unconditional to conditional support on half of all funding by 2025. The current region model will remain in place in the early stages of the transition. However, it will be reviewed to ensure that tier 1, base, is fit for purpose for the future.
From 2026, with the approval of the Parliament, new powers from the proposed agriculture bill will be used to launch the new enhanced payment. The enhanced payment will be the key mechanism to incentivise farmers and crofters to undertake actions to deliver positive outcomes for the climate and for nature. Co-development of that element is being prioritised through the preparing for sustainable farming programme under the national test programme, which launched in spring 2022. Central to that track is the provision of funding for conducting carbon audits and soil testing. Over three years until 2025, the national test programme will invest up to £51 million to help farmers and crofters undertake those essential first steps towards more sustainable farming.
On 10 February, I also published a list of potential future support framework measures. The list sets out the sort of actions that we will expect farmers and crofters to undertake under the new framework. It is based on the actions that have been identified by academic research and the farmer-led groups as being essential to meeting Scotland’s climate and biodiversity targets. The measures are focused on their suitability for the enhanced tier. There is likely to be a range of additional measures to help to achieve Scotland’s nature and climate targets in other tiers of the future support framework.
Underpinning all those measures is the principle that farmers and crofters should choose measures that are right for their business and based on their farm plans, audits and expert advice. The final list of actions in a future support framework will be not prescriptive but elective to encourage choice, flexibility and adaptability. It will not seek to penalise those who already achieve a certain level or threshold. Therefore, farmers and crofters do not need to wait before taking action that has been built into the preparing for sustainable farming programme and the national test programme.
Producing more of our own food more sustainably is at the heart of our vision for the future of Scottish agriculture because it will enable us to be more food secure. As a result of Brexit and the continuing Russian invasion of Ukraine, we are now more aware of, and alert to, food supply vulnerabilities and price shocks.
Last year, I established, together with industry, a short-life food security and supply task force, which reported in June. I am pleased to report that the immediate recommendations from the task force are now complete or substantially complete. For example, I have also now established and resourced a dedicated food security unit within the Scottish Government. That unit will allow us to continue to monitor and respond to issues in food supply and production to bolster confidence and address risks and issues as they arise.
However, all our work and planning is compromised by financial uncertainty. Brexit means that we no longer have long-term certainty of funding. HM Treasury has provided yearly allocations for the current United Kingdom parliamentary session and there is no funding commitment from 2025. That has direct implications for the management of the current CAP, including the Scottish rural development programme, and the work that is under way on the agriculture reform programme. That is unacceptable and far from the sunlit uplands that the Brexiteers promised. Scotland needs long-term funding certainty to enable farmers and crofters to plan, invest and deliver, just as we had through CAP.
That funding uncertainty is one reason why we would have preferred to remain in the European Union and will stay aligned to the new CAP approach that our European neighbours are now implementing. However, I reiterate that we expect full replacement of EU funds to ensure no detriment to Scotland’s finances. I will continue to press for that from Westminster at every opportunity, no matter who is in government there.
Westminster has not only short-changed Scotland; it has systematically undermined and diminished devolution through its approach to international trade deals and the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020. The Scottish Government—and indeed the Scottish Parliament—remains fundamentally opposed to the 2020 act, which is an assault on devolution that has been imposed on us without our consent and should be repealed. The act has allowed UK Government ministers to introduce the Subsidy Control Act 2022, which has agricultural support within its scope. Therefore, we now find ourselves in the egregious position of being one of the few countries in the world to treat support for growing and producing food in this way, and that might prevent us from tailoring agriculture payments to the specific needs of Scottish farmers, crofters and land managers in future.
Will the cabinet secretary give way?
I have already taken a few interventions so I need to make progress.
All that matters because of the marginal nature of our land, the relative size of our holdings and businesses, and our on-going commitment to support farmers and crofters directly. The Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill that is currently going through Westminster only adds to our concerns—not least because of the existential threat that it poses to our high animal welfare, plant health, food safety, water quality and environmental standards.
Westminster might not care about its environment and countryside, but we do. That is why Scotland needs the right to choose its own future. Independence would give us the opportunity to use new powers to pursue priorities that are tailored to our needs. The UK economy is on the wrong path, with no real alternative on offer in the current system. Not being independent means that Scotland is being dragged down the wrong path, too—one that people in Scotland did not vote for. Only through having the full powers that independence brings will Scotland have the full range of economic and other policy tools to take decisions based on our own needs, which would allow us the chance to replicate the success of the many neighbouring countries that are more prosperous, productive and fairer than the UK. That is why the Scottish Government is committed to giving the people of Scotland a choice about the future that they want: a greener, wealthier and fairer economy within the European Union or a sluggish, stagnating economy outside it.
We have embarked on a journey of transformational change, working with the industry to farm more sustainably in the future, for the benefit of climate and nature and, ultimately, for the benefit of us all. It will not be an easy journey—nothing worth doing ever is. What I see and hear from all the farmers and crofters I meet are a willingness to do things differently, an appetite for change and often an impatience for us to get on with it. However, we must also ensure that the transition is a just one that takes everyone who wants to stay in or move into farming and food production with us. That is my goal. We have the ambition, the optimism, the enthusiasm, and the talent and skills that we need to become a global leader in sustainable and regenerative agriculture.
That the Parliament welcomes the Scottish Government’s Vision for Agriculture, which outlines its aim to transform how it supports farming and food production in Scotland to become a global leader in sustainable and regenerative agriculture, commits to supporting farmers and crofters to produce more of Scotland’s food more sustainably to contribute to food security, and acknowledges the need for change to make sure that farming plays its part in cutting emissions, mitigating climate change and restoring and enhancing nature and biodiversity; agrees that there is no contradiction between high-quality food production and producing it in a way that delivers for climate and nature restoration; welcomes the recently-published Agricultural Reform Route Map, which sets out the phased implementation of the four-tier Future Support Framework in order to deliver the Vision and avoid any cliff edges; further welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment to co-development, demonstrated through its consultation on a Scottish Agriculture Bill and its commitment to working with all partners committed to a vibrant and successful rural Scotland; recognises the uncertainty and limitations on planning, caused by Brexit, and calls upon the UK Government to fulfil its outstanding commitments to fully replace EU funds, and to engage collectively and meaningfully on future agriculture funding.
Before I call the next speaker, I invite members who wish to speak in the debate but who have not yet pressed their button to do so as soon as possible. I call Rachael Hamilton to speak to and move amendment S6M-08212.1, for a generous nine minutes.15:02
I welcome the chance to debate how we can deliver a positive vision for the future of Scotland’s agriculture. The importance of food security has never been greater. Agriculture remains at the forefront of efforts to reach our net zero targets, and Scottish farmers need support at this critical juncture to enable them to keep providing the high-quality affordable food that they are famous for.
The Scottish Government has a crucial role in providing the platform on which farmers can thrive. It must allow agriculture to have the means to innovate, advance and build a positive future. That is essential not only for our farmers but for everyone in Scotland. Only by fully committing to farming can we be sure that supermarkets will be stocked with the best meat, fruit and vegetables.
However, for too long agriculture in Scotland has been succeeding despite SNP Government policies rather than because of them. The same is true for rural Scotland. In its motion, the SNP-Green Government talks of delivering, but delivering anything for anyone in rural Scotland has repeatedly been proved to be beyond its capability.
In the spirit of co-operation that will be needed in the debate, will the member please try to keep some of the politics out of her speech so that we can get a solution to the problems that we face?
I thank Jim Fairlie for that intervention, but it is almost a case of the pot calling the kettle black, given the last few paragraphs of the cabinet secretary’s speech—unless, of course, that was written by one of her civil servants.
The Government has failed to deliver promised upgrades to rural roads, failed to deliver ferries for our islanders and failed to give farmers the support and the tools that they need to progress. In every corner of rural Scotland, we find evidence of an SNP-Green Government that simply does not understand the needs of Scotland’s rural population and the land that rural people manage. The Government is out of touch with rural Scotland. Worse than that, it has ignored rural Scotland completely.
To the detriment of our farmers, the coalition Government has been led by ideology rather than evidence. It puts a higher priority on politics than it does on doing the right thing. It chooses to oppose gene editing, ignoring the potential benefits of more food coming from our land, so that it can stoke its age-old constitutional grievances. The Government chooses to let the best land for farming become land for planting trees—the wrong tree in the wrong place—ignoring the fact that that ultimately could harm the environment, as we might be forced to import more food, and more costly food, from abroad rather than grow it here. The Government chooses to make superficial changes that look green on the surface but, underneath, if one looks beyond the political spin, do more damage to the climate, which it claims to care about.
In recent sittings of the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee, we have heard scathing comments that the SNP, hamstrung by the radical Green Party, has left Scottish farmers playing catch-up to others across the world with similar resources, including those just south of the border. Our farmers are at the forefront of the climate and biodiversity crises. Few people are more invested in dealing with the issues than they are and, without agriculture on side, net zero is just a pipe dream. Scotland’s ambitious targets can be met only if farmers are given the necessary opportunity, incentives and helping hand to make a difference.
As well as hearing the evidence in committee, I am fortunate to represent a constituency with dozens of amazing farmers, whom I meet regularly. They are all saying the same thing: “We’re working flat out to boost biodiversity and farm for the future. Give us the support we need, and we will do the rest.” They understand that that is in the interest of the future of their industry. Sustainability has always been part of farming in Scotland, and without it there would be no future.
However, the Government’s attempt to support farmers in that endeavour is falling woefully short of the mark. Examples of that were heard in a recent committee evidence session at which experts discussed carbon audits, slurry storage, green nitrogen, upland management and carbon neutral beef farming. On carbon audits, the committee heard that farmers are already spending thousands of pounds on soil testing and that the scheme that forms part of the current proposals accounts for just 10 per cent of that figure, which was described as “embarrassing”. The Government’s carbon audit scheme sits idle as farmers choose to get on with the work themselves. The data that the Government wants to collect through its scheme already exists but, instead of collating it, the Government is trying to spend public money on collecting what is already collected.
In the same committee session, we heard that Scotland’s pig sector is in a generational meltdown. It is clear that solving the slurry storage issue should be a priority, yet we heard that the Government’s scheme for that, which is worth £5 million, will barely touch the sides, given that storage solutions can cost upwards of £250,000.
Former NFU Scotland president Jim Walker called out the Scottish Government for its “infantile” discussions on the route map. Farmers in countries such as Australia and Ireland have been enabled to rear carbon neutral beef herds. Here, the Government is yet to get its head round the grass on which such herds graze. The distinct lack of understanding of that issue was laid bare by those giving evidence in that committee meeting.
That was just one committee session, and there are many more to come. In a recent meeting with representatives from NFUS, a similar critical picture was painted of the proposals. Those representatives encapsulated the situation perfectly when they accused the Scottish Government of trying to have its cake and eat it.
Does the member agree that she is cherry picking what has been said in the committee and that she is not explaining in a well-rounded way what was said? NFU Scotland president and agricultural reform implementation oversight board chair Martin Kennedy told the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee that, in relation to coming out of the EU and no longer having long-term certainty of funding,
“we need to be able to look five or six years ahead ... We got used to”
“that was delivered by Europe, which covered a seven-year period, so people knew what was going to be available. We do not have such a framework at present, which is really concerning.”—[Official Report, Rural Affairs and Islands Committee, 8 March 2023; c 20.]
I thought that I would intervene just to give balance to the argument.
I can give you that time back, Rachael Hamilton.
I went to the protest that was held outside the Parliament a few months ago and listened to all the farmers, and not one of them was complimentary about the SNP-Green Government.
The importance of food security came to the fore after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which led to global supply shortages. Clearly, farming plays an integral role in ensuring Scotland’s food security; after all, the more top-quality and affordable food we grow locally, the less food we need to bring into this country at great cost to our environment. However, much of the concern around the proposals that we are debating today stems from the impression that the Scottish Government is asking farmers to place carbon sequestration and environmental concerns above food production.
I made this point in response to an earlier question, but I really do not think that it is fair to pit food production against nature and climate concerns. Does the member not agree that those are not conflicting priorities and that all three things can be done? Indeed, that is why they are the three pillars of our vision.
The member has just talked about the environmental damage that imports can do—why, then, did the UK Government sell us down the river when it came to trade deals?
In summary, the solution to this is to ensure that, as the cabinet secretary has said, food security is aligned with biodiversity gain. Time and again, we have heard that that is not happening; the Scottish Government has put food security at the bottom of the pile. Why are farmers talking about food security? Why are they concerned about clarity and concerned about their future? Is the cabinet secretary listening to farmers? We on these benches are doing so, and that is exactly what they are saying.
The Government is reaping what it has sown. It is sowing the seeds of decline in Scottish agriculture, and our food stocks as well as our environment will pay the price for that. Food that is produced, sold and consumed in Scotland is less harmful to our environment than food that is imported from the other side of the world, and a policy that rewards tree planting over crop planting or livestock grazing on productive land serves only to harm our environment and not, as the Government would claim, to heal it.
Farmers must be supported to do their job, and they deserve to be recognised for the vital role that they play in producing the first-class ingredients that we enjoy every day in our breakfast, our lunch and our dinner. They should, as they so often do, strive to do that work sustainably, but their role in providing food security for our nation must not be forgotten. I will never apologise for making that point time and again in the chamber.
I have already highlighted the frustration at the heart of last year’s “food needs a farmer” protest outside the Parliament. It was a point that the farmers who descended on the Parliament in their hundreds made to the SNP and Green parties, but today’s statement from the cabinet secretary is just confirmation that those parties have completely failed to listen.
However, as we continue our pre-legislative scrutiny of the proposed agriculture bill, there is still time to change tack, listen to farmers and get this right for them. From the evidence that we have heard so far, we should be in no doubt that Scotland’s farmers know an awful lot more about managing their land than those writing policies at St Andrew’s house do. We have an opportunity to utilise the abundance of knowledge that we have in the agricultural industry, and I urge the cabinet secretary to take full advantage of that and commit to ensuring greater transparency of how those views are listened to and how individuals will bear the brunt of the proposals in the bill when it is introduced to Parliament.
We need a plan to help farmers produce more top-quality food here in Scotland, a plan to reduce our reliance on other foods coming in and a plan to create more jobs in the wider food industry. What we need is a plan that puts farmers first, not the one-track, short-sighted and ideology-driven proposal that is before us today. The question for our next First Minister is this: will they ditch the hated Bute house agreement—hated by so much of rural Scotland—or will they plough on for the sake of the dying dreams of independence to the peril of our rural communities?
I move amendment S6M-08212.1, to leave out from “to become” to end and insert:
“; welcomes the ongoing commitment from Scotland’s agricultural sector to meet net zero by 2045; notes the sector’s contribution of £2.9 billion to Scotland’s economy, with one in 10 jobs being dependent on agriculture; further notes that the Climate Change Committee has highlighted that, as things stand, the Scottish Government will miss its targets to reduce agricultural emissions; recognises that agricultural businesses plan years in advance and that the Scottish Government has failed to provide these businesses with funding certainty, including clarity on whether farmers will be able to apply for all tiers of funding in the new proposed payment system; congratulates farmers and crofters for putting high-quality food on people's plates; urges the Scottish Government to put food security at the heart of its new vision, with a pragmatic land use strategy; calls for farmers in Scotland to be allowed to use gene editing technology to help drive innovation and keep costs low for the agricultural sector, and welcomes the Scottish Government's engagement with farmers and crofters from across Scotland to shape a viable and successful future for generations to come.”
I call Beatrice Wishart. You may have a generous six minutes, Ms Wishart.15:14
In reforming and transforming our agriculture sector, everything that we do will need to be in the context of adhering to our net zero targets, facing the climate and nature emergencies, and recognising the impact of Brexit and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on UK food security.
The war in Ukraine has driven up the cost of products that are essential to food production and the supply chain, including fuel, fertiliser, feed and energy, thus jeopardising global and domestic food security. The war and its impacts will not last for ever, but there might be some long-lasting impacts that we can address now.
As you will not need reminding, Presiding Officer, just this week, farmers on the island of Westray in Orkney have written to the Scottish Government outlining the stark reality of soaring inflation, rising input costs and piecemeal support. As a result of that reality, farmers in Westray are anticipating the largest-ever drop in cattle numbers in a single year. Without a change in course, critical mass could be lost entirely by 2025. This is a crisis that demands urgent and targeted intervention.
Both the UK and Scottish Governments have been slow to respond on the multiple threats that agriculture faces. The lack of certainty around the future of the post-CAP schemes is deterring investment, and that will be detrimental to the future of the industry. Farming is on a journey, but the destination is not clear, as we heard at last night’s meeting.
Last autumn, Scottish Liberal Democrats passed a conference motion on growing Scottish agriculture. We want an agriculture sector that is as ambitious as our crofters and farmers. Future financial support in agriculture should be built on the principles that it will encourage active farming, promote environmental sustainability and restore biodiversity, in order to manage change in farming and crofting to tackle the climate and nature emergencies. It must support employment and turnover, while maintaining a critical mass in the supply chain and associated industries to enhance the processing of food in Scotland, reduce food miles and fully support the vibrancy and viability of rural and island communities.
The UK Government’s approach to trade deals risks undermining Scottish and UK agriculture by undercutting the goods that we produce to high environmental and animal welfare standards. Post-Brexit trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand have been described by NFU Scotland as
“one sided, with little to no advantage for Scottish farmers”
and as posing
“a long-term threat to key Scottish agricultural sectors, such as beef, lamb and dairy”.
Scottish Liberal Democrats want to reaffirm that all trade deals should meet UK standards on environmental protection and animal welfare.
We also want to see the UK Government commission an independent review of the role of the Groceries Code Adjudicator Act 2013, to establish how it could be further strengthened. The strength of the big supermarkets is being used to drive down prices at the farm gate. Although the major supermarkets have consistently reported large profits, most farms rely on grants and subsidies to make any revenue.
Critically, the UK Government needs to provide relief in the face of rising costs. In recent weeks, exacerbated by poor weather in Europe and North Africa, we have seen how a lack of support for UK glasshouse farming energy bills resulted in shortages on supermarket shelves. We cannot allow food shortages to become commonplace, nor food prices to rise too high for consumers.
Scottish Liberal Democrats secured additional agriculture transition funding in 2021. We call on the Scottish Government to build on that by rewarding environmental stewardship and helping agricultural businesses make investments that will rapidly reduce emissions.
We also call for a fresh food campaign to improve consumer awareness of the benefits of cutting food miles and using local produce, alongside the reform of procurement processes, to better value seasonal Scottish produce and help producers and processors navigate tendering.
We need to get farming practices right for our rural and island communities, and to tackle the climate and nature emergencies. The UK Climate Change Committee’s report “Is Scotland climate ready?” warns that
“There is currently no strategy in place to ensure the agricultural sector in Scotland remains productive as the climate changes”,
despite forecasts of more floods and periods of water scarcity.
NFU Scotland also warns that wholesale land-use change to support climate change mitigation, if it takes agricultural land out of sustainable food production, would lead to
“rapid socio-economic decline across Scotland”.
We advocate robust food security assessments. Is productive agricultural land well suited to supporting food production and sustainability? That needs to be assessed prior to land being used for non-agricultural purposes, such as forestry. That would ensure that carbon offsetting projects do not jeopardise the ability of food-producing land to feed families across Scotland.
A new system of croft proofing needs to be introduced in future agricultural support and other relevant regulations. Not all growers operate in the same way and we should protect the crofts that have served us well for generations.
We will look closely at the Government’s proposals and will support means to keep farming profitable and sustainable with a focus on the need to ensure that the food that we want to put on the dining table is affordable and, importantly, available.
We move to the open debate. I call Alasdair Allan. You have a generous six minutes, Dr Allan.15:20
The Scottish Government’s vision for agriculture sets out the Government’s long-term view on how best to support farming and food production across Scotland. I hope that we are all agreed on at least the fact that farmers and crofters must be able to live and work sustainably on their land to meet our nation’s food needs and strengthen food supply chains in Scotland while adapting practices to better protect our natural resources.
The Scottish Government has committed to reducing agricultural emissions by 31 per cent by 2032. As well as continuing to reduce the sector’s overall carbon footprint, we must turn attention to how best to reduce the damaging impact of nitrification caused, in part, by agricultural by-products. That said, it is also vital that farmers and crofters be supported to produce more of our own food here in Scotland, thereby strengthening Scotland’s food security and avoiding the real risk of Scotland offshoring its carbon emissions, to which other members alluded.
Everyone acknowledges that there is a long way to go. However, the publication of the agricultural reform route map gives the industry a clearer sense of what support mechanisms will or might be implemented from 2025 onwards, such as the basic payment scheme, voluntary coupled support and the less favoured area support scheme.
The challenges that Scotland’s farmers and crofters face are multifaceted and include the continued impact of Brexit, climate change and huge rises in feed, fuel and energy costs, as well as labour shortages. The UK Government must fulfil its promise to fully replace EU funds. It is the very least that Scotland’s farmers and crofters deserve. It is also vital that the UK Government engages collaboratively with the Scottish Government on future agriculture funding.
The four-tiered future support framework that is set out in the Scottish Government’s agricultural reform route map aims to ensure that farmers and crofters can access the support that they need to continue producing high-quality local produce while simultaneously working towards even greater sustainability by reducing emissions and engaging in regenerative agricultural practices.
Of course, one of the most sustainable forms of agriculture is already an inherent part of Scotland’s cultural life and of the local economy in my constituency and across the north and west of Scotland. For centuries, the traditional low-intensity management practices that are associated with crofting, along with the mixture of activities that are commonly carried out, have been instrumental in supporting a range of species and habitats while cultivating produce to be used locally.
It remains difficult to make much, if any, profit from crofting. It is certainly hard for a crofter to access high levels of financial support.
As the member knows, I am a great supporter of crofting and all the benefits that it brings. Does he agree that crofting law reform would be of great help in making crofting sustainable into the future? It was promised in the previous session of the Parliament but has not been delivered yet.
I certainly agree that crofting law reform is required. It has been promised in this session of the Parliament, and I urge the Government to bring it forward. I am sure that that will happen.
My point about crofting is that the levels of support for an individual crofter are modest, to put it mildly. Half of crofters receive less than £1,400 in annual support, according to the Scottish Crofting Federation.
Crofting has a marked potential to deliver on key aims in relation to sustainability, biodiversity and the strengthening of rural communities. Often located in areas of high-nature-value farming, livestock are able to graze in a well-managed way that encourages environmental regeneration and sustains the area’s biodiversity.
However, crofters often face challenges that are unique to their environment. For example, greylag geese continue to cause significant damage to crofts and common grazings throughout the Western Isles. Their rapidly increasing numbers make it very difficult to mitigate their impact, and the financial losses experienced by crofters as a result can be extreme. The Scottish Government and NatureScot have been supporting control schemes, which go some way to assisting local efforts to contain the local goose population’s growth. However, the geese themselves are challenging to control effectively. I have heard more than one crofter make the dry remark that the resident geese can now recognise the registration plates of the marksman’s car and make themselves scarce at the appropriate time.
All that said, it is essential that crofters and other small-scale producers have their needs prioritised, so they must be able to readily access comprehensive support. Their potential contribution to sustainable best practice for the agricultural industry is clearly significant, but it is also important to point out that, whether it is due to the effects of climate change or anything else, they need support to make change.
The route map’s publication has been widely welcomed across the agricultural industry, as it gives more certainty to farmers and crofters about the road ahead. By ensuring that future support mechanisms complement each other and are accessible to those who need the support the most, we can continue to best support Scotland’s agricultural sector in moving towards the more sustainable farming and high-quality food production that we all seek to achieve.
I remind members that we have a fair bit of time in hand, so members who take an intervention will get that time back, and possibly more.15:27
That is very generous—thank you, Presiding Officer.
Scotland’s farmers are the beating heart of not just our rural economy but our way of life. They are central to food security and provide the one energy source that we cannot live without. They are the champions of our natural landscape and the true custodians of our environment.
The good news is that Scotland’s farmers are up for the challenge. The question that today’s debate poses is whether the Scottish Government is really behind them. Be in no doubt: our farmers will find a way to survive—to manage and overcome the challenges that they face—but that should not be enough for us. In a country with as many opportunities as, and the agricultural potential of, Scotland, we should be looking for our farmers to thrive.
Although the route map is a starting point, we cannot ignore the fact that the SNP Government has been really slow in getting the journey started, leaving farmers to second-guess which direction they should set off in.
Do you think that Brexit has helped the agricultural sector in Scotland?
Ask questions through the chair, please.
What I can say to the member is that farmers in my constituency are pleased that their LFASS payments have been maintained and restored to previous levels. To those members on the Government benches who pretend that being in the EU is a panacea for farmers, I say that they need to look again at what the EU is doing to find support elsewhere.
Sixteen years of neglect of our rural communities has been followed, in recent years, by a sustained attack on rural life. That has undermined our farmers and rural communities, and it makes many farmers feel that they are not the integral part of Scotland that they are.
Farmers should be the SNP’s first partners when it comes to driving forward change and aspiration for rural Scotland. Sadly, that has not been the case. In their place sit the so-called Scottish Greens, whose answer to protecting the countryside is to ban it. In the Scottish Greens’ utopia, in place of the evils of farming and food production, we would instead see a small but merry band of volunteers tending rank vegetation, and we would have to cross our fingers that reintroducing a few predators would do the rest.
Obviously, we do not have the Greens in the chamber today to respond to that, but I would like to know which part of the Bute house agreement relating to agriculture Oliver Mundell takes issue with or disagrees with.
The cabinet secretary should start by speaking to hill farmers in my constituency, who are under huge pressure as a result of forestry—which I will come on to—and who have seen deals with the Greens push the Scottish Government further than it should have gone when it comes to things such as predator management. There are plenty of examples of the Greens pushing the Scottish Government about.
However, the Greens are not to blame for everything. The First Minister’s time in office coincides almost exactly with the seven years of stalling, delays and disinterest that have led us to today. We can only hope—and, maybe for some, pray—that the new First Minister is ready to work with rural Scotland instead of serving Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater.
The delay and dither have been costly and unnecessary. All the while, the job of our farmers has continued to get harder. No longer is it only the elements that they battle; they now fight for the space simply to exist. In my Dumfriesshire constituency, viable and good-quality agricultural land and units have been carpeted in Sitka spruce, with a blind eye turned to bad environmental practice.
Although, in the past, I might have been able to say that everyone in the Scottish Government understood that people cannot eat trees, after the Bute house agreement, I cannot quite be so sure. It is laughable that the people who tell us that traditional upland farming is bad for the environment are the same people who say that trees should take its place. It is those same people who advocate moving away from red meat and tell us that we would be better eating avocados jetted in from the other side of the globe.
I wonder whether, at some point in his speech, Oliver Mundell might stop dealing in stereotypes, given that I do not like avocados but do eat red meat. Is he going to talk about agriculture policy at any point in his contribution?
I am talking about agriculture policy. If Alasdair Allan does not speak to farmers, I do, and that is what they say. They are frustrated. Those issues affect them. They are concerned that people in this Parliament do not take food security and domestic produce seriously, and are happy to rubbish red meat and blame it for all the environmental ills.
In what world—perhaps it is the one that the Tories dwell in—does the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands setting up a novel food security task force not constitute taking that issue seriously?
Setting up a food security task force means looking at the issues superficially and obsessing about things that are outwith the Scottish Government’s control rather than focusing closer to home, where good-quality agricultural land is being planted up with trees every day, and rather than promoting Scottish goods when it comes to procurement within the Scottish public sector, as my colleague Brian Whittle suggested earlier.
The cabinet secretary thinks that we need a plan when we have had years—16 years, in fact—in which the Scottish Government could have been doing far more to stand up for Scottish farmers and for the Scottish supply chain. It could have been doing something about the lack of abattoirs in parts of rural Scotland, doing something about our shortage of butchers or doing something to make farmers feel valued. It is simply not good enough.
Where in this grand vision of agriculture does Oliver Mundell see the free trade agreements with New Zealand and Australia fitting in? I also have to say that it must have been one of your staff who wrote your speech.
I remind members to speak through the chair.
I have not made a great deal of progress through my speech; most of what I have said has been in response to SNP members who, instead of channelling their energies into challenging the cabinet secretary on what she is going to do for farmers, seem to be more excited about what I have to say.
There are big opportunities for Scotland’s farmers around the world, but it seems that the SNP is the only party in the UK to rubbish the opportunities that trade brings and to talk Scotland down. There were some advantages for Scottish farmers in the trade deals—for example, a reduction in tariffs on whisky, which supports a lot of jobs in farming and agriculture.
As the Scottish Government sets out its future plans, my plea is that ministers think more carefully about the priorities and ensure that farmers are not forced off their land to make way for wind turbines and trees as a result of imbalances in financial support and incentives. We need a level playing field—one that recognises the importance of food security. We must also remember that farming needs people, and that means ensuring that our rural communities are well-served and vibrant places.
I do not have time to cover all of what I could say during today’s debate, but the SNP Government has gutted rural health services, rural schools and rural policing, and it has failed to offer any solutions to rural depopulation, so to hear members tell us that all of the labour shortage problems and all of the challenges that farmers have in finding a workforce come from Brexit is, quite frankly, unacceptable.
The tone of today’s debate has been worrying. The proposed route map, rather than leading to fewer barriers in the future, means that our farmers will be asked to jump through more hoops. I worry that, in order to access support, farmers will be asked to spend huge sums of money on consultants and will spend less time looking after their land and doing the things that they already know work when it comes to protecting the environment. They have been short changed, and this debate shows it.15:36
I must say that I am quite disappointed by the tone of the debate—but that is not coming from those on the SNP benches. All we hear are descriptions of problems, but being descriptive does not offer any solutions. We are willing to work cross-party to come up with solutions to a lot of the issues.
I am very grateful to the member for taking my intervention. For nearly seven years, I have talked in the Parliament about the importance of public procurement for our farmers, but we still do not have a system in which the central Scotland Excel contract is accessible by our farmers. That is something that you could change right here, right now, but seven years later, we are still waiting.
I remind members to speak through the chair.
I say through the chair that the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Bill was passed a few months ago.
The farmers in our constituencies—and the whole agriculture sector—talk to us, bend our ears and tell us about the issues and the problems that they are having, and they expect us to come up with solutions and to help them; they do not expect us to use their problems as ammunition in a one-sided debate.
Will the member take an intervention?
Not at the moment, but I will in a second.
We cannot just throw in problems, such as a blunderous Brexit, and then stand by mocking the people who are trying to clean up that mess.
Will the member take an intervention?
Not just now, but in a second.
We have to be solution focused and go forward working together and doing our best for our agriculture industry. That is what our farmers deserve, and nothing less. They might not have kept the receipts of Brexit, but we have because we are picking up the tab.
Sustainable and regenerative farming is at the heart of the Scottish Government’s vision for agriculture, and rightly so. The twin biodiversity and climate crises are existential, and they will present challenges and opportunities for Scotland’s farmers and crofters. If we are to ensure that there are fewer of the former and more of the latter in the years and decades to come, it is vital that we act with our climate change targets and net zero ambitions in mind.
In my constituency of Banffshire and Buchan Coast, we have already seen the alarming impacts of those crises. We have been hit hard by storms, rising tides and coastal erosion. Acres of forestry has been lost across the constituency as a result of never-seen-before gales. The migration of cod and urban gulls has had a notable impact on the lives and livelihoods of those in my constituency.
While many recognise that we have a climate emergency, not all of us know that we also face a nature emergency. Professor Des Thompson, principal adviser on biodiversity and science at NatureScot told us this morning at the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee that, although there is growing realisation of the nature emergency, we have a long way to go. He said that what has happened with gulls is a catastrophe but it is because of what has happened at sea that the food base for gulls has declined. Gulls are therefore moving inland into towns and cities that are not adapted to breeding, and they are very good at tracking schoolchildren, unfortunately, so that they know where to find food.
What we are seeing with the gulls is just a symptom of climate change. The broader realisation that climate change is contributing to the nature crisis and therefore to the problems that we have right on our doorstep cannot be overstated and our farmers get it more than anyone else. They are witnessing those changes in real time and they understand the challenges that they are facing.
I welcome the Scottish Government’s emphasis on our vision for agriculture and the agricultural reform route map. The emphasis on our net zero ambitions and emissions reductions are in line with our climate targets. We all need to do better at expressing and mitigating the gravity of the twin climate and nature crises, and I praise the minister for her commitment to encouraging co-operative approaches on these issues, and to optimising collaboration with knowledge exchange.
Food security is an area of vital importance. In recent years, we have witnessed many disruptions to the global food supply chains, most recently through Russia’s abhorrent war in Ukraine. The Covid-19 pandemic also posed some difficult challenges to the global food system. Although its impacts are not unique to Scotland, those caused and imposed on Scotland by the hard Brexit were entirely avoidable. The UK Government has done immense and irreversible damage to our world-class food and drink industry and to rural and coastal communities such as the one that I represent, and I commend the minister for her continuing and tireless engagement in combating post-Brexit skills shortages in agriculture and for calling on the UK Government to fulfil its outstanding commitment to fully replacing EU funds.
Does the member not think that, after 16 years of her party being in government in Scotland, we might have had a hope of growing some of our own talent that could fill skills shortages in rural communities instead of seeing people flocking to the cities?
I thank the member for bringing that issue up because it is a real problem and we are facing a lot of complex problems like that. If we are to look into those problems, we must remember that Scotland 16 years ago is not reflective of the society that we are in right now and that Brexit did not help because it damaged it even more.
We must ask ourselves what the future of food farming looks like. Scottish enterprises such as Intelligent Growth Solutions are taking innovations such as vertical farming to new heights. Home-grown enterprises such as IGS are redefining the future landscape of farming and food. Year-round, reliable, high-quality crops that are scalable and produced in controlled environments without pesticides and with a shorter transit from farm to plate will play a vital role in reducing the carbon footprint of our agriculture industry.
As we heard today, there is also a place for our livestock. The words that were used today were “sweet spot”. It is vital to get the balance right for a sustainable food and drink industry, for the future of our planet and for a health and wellbeing economy.15:43
I am gonnae try to be as honest and productive as I can in this debate, but gotcha questions just arenae gonnae work for today’s deliberations.
Brexit has, as yet, delivered absolutely nothing good for the farming community, the wider Scottish economy, or the social mobility of our people or that of our European neighbours who wish to come here to work and contribute. That is the view of Roz McCall, who said it on “Debate Night” the other week. If I was trying to be charitable, I would say that if there was the possibility of a glimmer of anything positive, it would be the ability of this Parliament to agree a new agricultural reform bill that is tailored to the needs of our farmers and crofters, our food security, our ambition and the need to hit the targets that we have set for net zero and nature restoration.
I appreciate the importance of getting the vision for our agricultural future absolutely on point, and my dealings with the Scottish Government so far suggest to me that it gets that—it understands it.
The member says that the Government gets it. Will he join me in condemning the plans that civil servants put before the Scottish Government that would have resulted in active measures to reduce Scotland’s beef herd?
I do not recognise the position that the member has taken, so I will move on.
There is a huge and exciting challenge to embrace as the Government seeks to balance our status as a top-quality food-producing nation while addressing the political priorities—[Interruption.]
Excuse me, Mr Fairlie. There is chat going on between the two front benches, which is not acceptable or courteous.
Please continue, Mr Fairlie.
I never even noticed, Presiding Officer, but thank you very much.
The Government seeks to balance our status as a top-quality food-producing nation while addressing the political priorities, both current and future, such as fulfilling our climate and biodiversity responsibilities, as Scotland moves towards net zero by 2045.
The added complexity is, of course, that we are in essence starting from scratch as we look to replace European Union directives. That will determine what our future farming and agricultural policy will look like. I fear that we might be trying to do too much in one bill, but we shall see how that develops as we scrutinise the bill as it goes through the committee stage.
From my perspective, food security and feeding our nation must be front and centre of our plans. As Martin Kennedy reminded us last week, it is an agriculture bill. We have a justified world-leading reputation for the quality of our food and production practices, and our critical mass in producing that food must be maintained—for our present food resilience and for the next generation of young farmers to follow.
The Scottish Government is working hard to ensure that there is resilience, sustainability and profit in the sector, and to give it the tools to support our farmers, who are already making meaningful changes on climate and nature issues. It should be noted that many of our farmers have been taking such actions for years.
Does the member recognise that our farmers are the custodians of the countryside and they are making significant changes in relation to climate change, but we must support them on that journey rather than just demand that they make changes? They need support to make those changes.
Of course I do.
I have said before and I will say again that, if we want a definition of “regenerative farming”, perhaps we should say that it is old-fashioned farming. Unfortunately, although we may have the sliver of hope that Brexit has given us in the opportunity to realign our agriculture policy, the negative Brexit effect is particularly profound, as we no longer have long-term certainty or multiyear funding, which is critical.
The hard-of-thinking Brexiteers who are running the UK Government and the Treasury right now are imposing unilateral choices that provide an insufficient replacement for EU funding. The result is a shortfall of £93 million, because pledges from the UK Government have not been honoured. Added to that, there is no certainty of funding from the Treasury from 2025 onwards. All our planning and deliberations could be for absolutely nothing if that funding is not at the very least maintained—although, as we have heard in committee, we know that it needs to be enhanced.
That is before we even mention the extreme shortages of labour, which mean that vegetables and fruit are rotting in the fields; the berry farmers who are pulling out bushes in my constituency in Perthshire; or the anxiety for the pig sector because of a lack of border controls. However, let us not talk about Brexit.
Does the member accept that, when that funding arrives, every penny of it should be ring fenced for farmers? Alternatively, does he agree with the Scottish Government that it should be spread out to cover all sorts of other purposes?
The tone that Mr Mundell has taken today is really unfortunate, because it is not conducive to trying to find solutions.
I genuinely have a deal of sympathy for the Tories in the Scottish Parliament. I understand that it is difficult for them when the Westminster Government that they champion has brokered harmful free trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand. Incidentally, those agreements were celebrated like a lottery win in those countries, while former minister George Eustice declared that the UK
“gave away far too much”.
A UK Government minister recently declared that New Zealand lamb is actually better for the environment than home-produced lamb. The UK Government put Ben Goldsmith on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs advisory committee—that was the old boys network doing its thing, with Michael Gove putting on that committee a man who today on Twitter told us that sheep have no place in our agriculture system. Sheep farming friends beware: Ben Goldsmith is coming for you, again.
Having said that, I am confident that our colleagues on the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee will work together, collegiately and with a common purpose, to find the right solutions for our agricultural community, our climate and our nature obligations. It is too important not to.
We will face up to the difficulties of competing demands on an ever-growing list of requirements for a fixed pot of money. I welcome the Government’s intention to strategically align Scotland in the direction of the EU’s CAP, because it is a durable framework that is designed to be flexible enough to adapt to changing social, economic and environmental challenges.
Will the member take an intervention?
I will in a second.
However, that will not copy and paste what has been set out in Brussels. I encourage the Government to ensure that that is the case, as we must make our own vision that fits Scotland’s unique needs.
You took the words out of my mouth. We have the opportunity to put forward a scheme that suits Scotland, so why would we align ourselves with CAP in Europe, which will see agricultural payments being cut in the future? Do you think that if Europe cuts agricultural payments, the Scottish Government should do the same?
That is a ludicrous question. If we were going to align with the EU, we would do so in order that when Scotland becomes an independent country and we make an application to rejoin the EU, we would have that opportunity.
That said, the Government has a challenging puzzle to solve. However, I have every confidence that our conversations are leading us on a clear and correct path. I trust the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee, our Parliament and our Government to set a prosperous vision for Scotland’s agricultural future, which would send a clear message to our farmers, land managers and our people that farming is truly valued in Scotland.15:51
Presiding Officer, can I clarify whether I have been given a generous six minutes so that I can take interventions?
You have a very generous six minutes, Mr Mountain.
That is very generous of you, Presiding Officer.
I remind members of my entry in the register of members’ interests. I want to be clear that I farm as part of a family farming partnership, I farm on land that I own, I am a tenant farmer on other bits of land and I am in receipt of agricultural subsidies. Without those subsidies, there is no way that my farming business could survive. That is the fact of the matter, and I am very open about it.
I come to the Parliament having proved that I have dirt under my fingernails from being involved in a family farming business for more than 40 years. Indeed, I think that that means that I was farming before either of the ministers was on the planet. That does not make me any better than them, but I believe that it allows me to come here with a certain amount of knowledge.
During that time, I have seen Governments and policies come and go, but one constant that has remained is the farmers who have managed to deliver some of the best managed land in the world. Our land is a key driver, because we need to remember that they are not making any more of it—we have a finite resource that delivers our food and will help us to protect our climate. As Oliver Mundell said, the problem is that, if we take more of the good, food-growing land out of production for things such as forestry, there will be even less land that can be used to grow food. That is important. As Oliver Mundell also said—I did not write his speech—we cannot eat trees, and we need to be careful about exporting our carbon footprint by importing more food from other countries.
The member talks about productive land being turned over to trees. As it stands, is it not up to the seller to sell their land to whoever they want?
Of course, the seller has those rights. However, I do not need to remind Mr Fairlie that the structure of agricultural subsidies in about 2005 meant that planting on good agricultural land in Aberdeenshire—no deer fencing was required and no work was required on the land—paid more than producing a crop. That was not a good or clever use of the subsidies. We need to be really careful about those things.
Growing more trees so that we cannot use that land for food production means that we are purposefully, or perhaps unwittingly, saying that we approve of the Amazon rain forest being chopped down in order to plant soya. I do not think that we should tolerate that. The future of Scottish farming should be about using the resources that we have a lot more wisely than is being suggested.
We are on the cross-party group on rural policy together. It is quite enjoyable when we get to hear evidence on what is out there. You mentioned the 2005 subsidies and said that that system was not right. Does that not mean that, when future support schemes are developed, we can learn lessons from the past and make things better?
Allow me to remind members to speak through the chair at all times.
I absolutely agree. You must have guessed the next subject in my speech, which is the new farming policy.
We need to build a wider policy to make it fit for the future, and the Government needs to ask itself these questions as it does that and to trust farmers to deliver food, conservation, biodiversity, employment and local investment, with farmers often being the centre of local communities. If the Government does that and bears that in mind, farming will continue.
If the Government does not believe that farmers can do that, one has to ask whether it believes that focus groups and large multinational companies—some of which, in order to get subsidies, want to burn the very food that we need to feed ourselves and our animals—will deliver it. I am talking about groups that want to rewild, forestry companies that look for hedge funding to make maximum use of carbon credits without knowing fully what that means and—God forbid—politicians. They do not do what farmers do, which is produce the food that we need to eat.
The minister has been clear about producing timescales, but Chris Stark of the Climate Change Committee has told the Government to get on with it because it is taking too long. At NFU Scotland’s annual general meeting dinner, which the cabinet secretary attended, farmers also said that the Government needs to get on with it. Surprisingly enough, even non-governmental organisations are telling the Government to get on with it.
Although the Government has come up with a timescale, it has not come up with a policy. The policy that the Government will develop will come into place only in 2026, which means that we will have less than six years to meet the climate targets that we are being asked to meet. I wish that those climate targets were earlier, and they would have been had the Conservatives had their way. I do not need to remind anyone that, in the previous parliamentary session, it was the Liberal Democrats who voted with the Government to decide that the new agriculture policy did not have to be unveiled until 2024. That is deeply unhelpful, and it leaves farmers in the lurch.
When the Government does not reach its targets, it will blame farmers, which will also be deeply unhelpful. The timescale does not allow you to model the effects of the changes that you will put in place in 2026. That will repeat the error that Richard Lochhead made when he introduced his revised scheme in 2015. It is deeply unhelpful. I suggest that you probably have not left yourself enough time to commission a new software programme, because it takes a long time to do that, and the previous one cost you more than £200 million.
There are some key questions that the agriculture policy will need to address. Will you protect the budget? Will you support less favoured areas? I think that you need to. Will all farmers be able to apply for all payments in all tiers? Will you make conditionality progressive, not regressive? Will you allow all farmers to apply for conditionality payments? Will you make food security a cornerstone of your policy? If the answer to any of those questions is no, you will fail.
I am deeply concerned that we still do not know the full extent of the Government’s farming policy. Since 2016, we have had debate after debate, report after report and task force after task force. The one thing that we have not come up with is a full and detailed policy. Farmers are resilient, but how does the Government expect farmers to improve our food security and meet climate change targets if they do not even know what they will be doing in two years’ time?
Sadly, it appears that, when the cabinet secretary inherited the portfolio from Fergus Ewing, she also inherited his amazing ability to dither and delay. My message—which is repeated by farmers across the country, whom I meet and talk to regularly—is that we need to get on with it if we are going to deliver our net zero targets. Unfortunately, cabinet secretary, until you get on with it, farmers cannot get on with it.
I remind all members that references to “you” in a debate are references to me, and I do not think that I am responsible for half of what is being said this afternoon—at least, I sincerely hope that I am not.16:00
Last week, as part of its pre-legislative scrutiny for the agriculture bill, the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee took evidence from members of the agriculture reform implementation oversight board. I will start by quoting Kate Rowell, who is a farmer. She shows that farmers and crofters across Scotland are willing and committed to playing their part in cutting emissions, mitigating climate change and restoring and enhancing nature and biodiversity. She said:
“I am here as a member of the ARIOB, representing Quality Meat Scotland, but I am also a farmer and it is really important to get across that every single farmer I know wants to improve their farm for future generations. I am a fifth-generation farmer. We are all in this for the long term—and by that, I mean centuries. We absolutely do not want to be making things worse. After my family, my farm is the thing that I love most in the entire world, and it is really important to me that it is left in a really good way for my children, if farming is what they want to do.”
She went on to say:
“Most farmers feel the same way, and we need to support them in doing that.”—[Official Report, Rural Affairs and Islands Committee, 8 March 2023; c 14.]
Ms Rowell’s sentiments are voiced across Scotland, and very much so by the farmers and crofters of Argyll and Bute. Ten days ago, I was invited to a meeting with them along with Donald Cameron, whom I spotted coming into the chamber a wee while ago. I use this as an example of cross-party working together. We met farmers and crofters from Argyll and Bute and NFUS representatives for Argyll and the islands to hear their concerns about agriculture. I should let the cabinet secretary know that, as a result of that meeting, she will receive a letter in the next day or so with some questions and suggestions as to how some of their concerns could be mitigated.
When I speak to farmers and crofters, it is clear that they recognise the importance of the sustainability of farms, food production and communities.?Work has begun, supported by the Scottish Government. The Nature Friendly Farming Network has successfully held a number of meetings in Argyll and Bute. It told me of the success of meetings held on Islay as part of supporting biodiversity through island-based farming and crofting. Participants included crofters, tenant farmers, owner farmers and estates. The group allows our farmers to share ideas, celebrate what they have achieved and upskill through peer-to-peer experience.
I am pleased to say that Islay is the home of one of the nine monitor farms in Scotland. Those are farmer-led and farmer-driven initiatives that aim to improve the profitability, productivity and sustainability of farms through practical demonstrations, the sharing of best practice and the discussion of up-to-date issues.
Craigens farm, which is run by Craig Archibald and his family, has 220 suckler cows, 200 store cattle, 1,000 ewes and about 1,100 lambs. The farm has 20 hectares producing barley for one of the local distilleries and 10 hectares of forage rape. The business has also diversified into oyster farming, and an on-farm cafe has just opened. For Mr Archibald, the monitor farm programme is not about only him and his business; it is for the farming community on the island. He said:
“By the end of the programme, I’d like to be better informed, and the farm more profitable. As for the island, I hope it’ll attract interest from other farmers and inspire some of the younger generations”.
I know that other farms are already linking in with Craigens farm as part of the monitor farm project. Farms sustain people, but they also sustain communities.? Schools, shops, medical practices, tourism and quality produce all rely on our successful farmers and crofters, and I know that all Argyll and Bute farmers feel very strongly about that.?
In response to a question from me during the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee’s evidence session two weeks ago, Chris Stark from the Climate Change Committee said:
“farmers know their land better than anyone else. That is key in what we are trying to achieve by giving farmers the incentive to use their knowledge in new ways.”—[Official Report, Rural Affairs and Islands Committee, 1 March; c 37.]
On that note, I will summarise some of the comments that I have heard from Argyll and Bute farmers and crofters. They feel that it is essential that the agriculture bill recognises farmers as both food producers and custodians of nature, and they stress that the bill should note the importance of agriculture in maintaining rural populations.
There is also a strong view that LFASS payments, which Edward Mountain and others have mentioned, should be rebased to reflect the current situation on farms, which would particularly help new entrants. They also emphasise that those payments cannot be conditional, because they are as important, if not more important, to some farmers as the tier 1 payments.
A few weeks ago, the committee heard from crofters who were opposed to having the whole-farm plan within tier 1, because of the bureaucracy. Does she have sympathy with that sentiment?
That is an interesting question to ask. I have both farmers and crofters in my constituency, so I know that it is really important that the Scottish Government listens to both farmers and crofters—I know that it is doing that—to ensure that the right solution is provided for them. It is also clear that crofters have maintained for centuries a way of working that has involved being custodians of the land as well as producers of food, and that is the kind of farming and crofting that we are looking to uphold.
I will continue summarising the comments that I have heard. There is concern about slurry storage, with regard to planning permission, the viability and price of units and the timeframe to claim grants for them. I know that the cabinet secretary and the minister are aware of that, and I would appreciate further conversations with them on that topic.
Other members have mentioned local infrastructure, and I will also mention it, with a particular focus on abattoirs. That ties in with the important work, which Karen Adam spoke about, that the Scottish Government has undertaken through the Good Food Nation (Scotland) Act 2022, and it would be another boost in reducing our food miles.
Will the member join me in raising concerns about the lack of any progress with the 2022 act? We were given a commitment that the secondary legislation would be drawn up alongside the bill, but I have been made aware that there has been little progress on the national plan. I am concerned that that sets the standard for how secondary legislation will be dealt with in relation to agricultural policy.
I do not recognise that, because I represent a constituency that is already looking at how the good food nation—[Interruption.] The member is speaking to me from a sedentary position, so I am afraid that I cannot hear what he is saying, but I have great confidence that the 2022 act will become an integral part of our legislative process.
Farmers and crofters welcome the opportunity to co-develop the Scottish agriculture bill, and I support the Scottish Government’s calls for the UK Government to fulfil its outstanding commitments to fully replace the funds and to engage meaningfully on future agricultural funding. As the cabinet secretary said, farmers and crofters need long-term investment to allow them to plan into the future.
Farmers and crofters sustain not only the people who eat their produce but an entire network of communities the length and breadth of rural Scotland. Those communities need successful farmers and crofters. In fact, the entire community of Scotland needs successful farmers and crofters.16:09
I welcome the debate and the Scottish Government’s future vision for agriculture. As always, I welcome the briefings from NFU Scotland and Scottish Land & Estates. It is paramount that we hear the voices of industry in these debates.
Scotland’s farmers are the backbone of our nation. Farmers provide and support thousands of jobs across our country, and, as colleagues have said, they produce the food for our dinner tables and are the custodians of our land. I agree that it is vital that any future agricultural policy recognises the contribution that they make to Scottish society, the health of our nation and our national food security.
With Brexit, the pandemic and now rising inflation, this period has seen some of the most challenging times that the sector has ever faced. There has been a catalogue of failures from the UK Government to protect the interests of Scottish farmers. One example is Brexit, but there is also the UK Government’s abject failure to secure trade deals that protect our agrifood sector. Indeed, our food standards across the UK have been put at risk due to recent trade deals. I have raised that issue previously in the chamber.
Despite the challenges, our farmers and crofters must be commended for their resilience. The Scottish Government is determined to support them over the next few years. Part of its vision for agriculture is to support our agricultural sector to reduce emissions and for the sector to help, as it is doing, in Scotland’s fight against the global climate emergency. Around 50 per cent of the emissions in the agriculture sector come from livestock. However, it is important that the Government supports farmers to adopt not only the low-carbon technologies that exist currently but those that will become available in the future through technological advances. I will focus on those advances.
The member spoke about how important the livestock sector is. Will she give a guarantee that she will lobby to ensure that livestock numbers in Scotland do not decrease and that we do not reach the critical point that would make the sector unreliable? We heard Chris Stark suggest that we need to reduce livestock numbers. Will the member ensure that the Government does not listen to that and that we find methods of retaining the number of cattle and sheep that we have in Scotland?
Farmers might need to make choices to reduce the livestock, given their own choices, so I would be interested to follow that further and see where we are. We heard in the committee from Chris Stark about some of the challenges of farming in areas such as Alasdair Allan’s region, which is peatland. One shoe does not fit every part of Scotland. We have a diverse farming sector across the country and we need to take that into consideration when we look at our future agricultural policy.
I return my focus to technological advances. Many of those can and do support our wider environmental goals. That includes the use of precision farming techniques to reduce the need for polluting fertilisers or pesticides so that we can support biodiversity.
The new biological advances cover a range of areas, including feed additives directed at reducing enteric methane emissions. Remote sensing technology, and associated monitoring, data gathering and analysis, also support our farmers to make the best emissions-reduction decisions. Moreover, technologies sourced from non-agricultural sectors—for example, digital ledgers, which are tools used to track and manage supply chains, business finance and information sharing—are also helpful for agricultural business.
In addition, 3D printing is emerging as a tool to help farmers reduce emissions. On Monday, I was invited to Borders College’s Hawick campus, where I heard about the green potential of 3D printing and the other excellent techniques that are being taken forward to develop green skills in the future.
I am particularly interested in the role of bioscience in improving agricultural efficiency and reducing agricultural emissions. Products such as Pro-Soil, Pro-Fortis and Bovaer, as well as Biocell, which is produced by Biocell Agri, work hand in hand to support increasing output while reducing emissions.
I am impressed with some of the products that apply natural methods to enhance cell walls in plants. That improves disease resistance, improves mineral uptake and enhances soil quality.
I think that we all agree that increasing production is important but so, too, is ensuring that livestock enter the food chain as quickly as possible. We have a strange system in which a lot of beef animals are now ready at 11 months, but, under the Scottish quality assurance scheme, they cannot leave the farm until they are 12 months old because they cannot be sold as Scottish beef. That is not good for the environment or the farmers. Should ministers change such rules as well?
I agree that we should definitely look at those issues. The products that I am talking about, which help to improve the weight gain of beef cattle or sheep, for instance, might mean that animals are on the land for less time, so they should at least be considered. As Mr Mountain described, having cattle on farm for a month that might not be necessary is something that we should probably think about.
I want to touch on research by the dairy nexus project at Scotland’s Rural College’s Barony campus in Dumfries and Galloway. Research conducted by Hugh McClymont shows that improving animal welfare can improve milk yield by up to a litre every 24 hours, which is about 21,000 extra litres of milk a month for an average dairy herd of 700 Holsteins. I would be interested to hear from the cabinet secretary whether the Scottish Government could explore financially supporting farmers to introduce evidence-based welfare measures such as extra brushes and mats for cattle, because that evidence has shown that output can be increased without necessarily increasing input.
Will the member take an intervention?
I am right out of time—I am sorry.
I will conclude by saying that the Scottish Government has serious concerns about the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020, which affects our ability to make decisions in Scotland and is impeding the devolved aspects of agriculture.
I look forward to the cabinet secretary’s response.
We move to closing speeches.16:16
Today we have had the opportunity to hear once again how agriculture can and will play a key role in combating climate change and reversing biodiversity loss.
As I come from generations of farmers, and as a former beef and dairy farmer, I am able to say confidently—and, with a couple of notable exceptions, perhaps with more confidence than most members in the chamber—that the industry relishes this challenge. I say that because it is one that farmers and generations of land managers have faced for many years. Provided that the sector is given sufficient, properly targeted funding and meaningful support, I am more than confident that the agricultural industry can deliver for the environment, climate change and biodiversity while ensuring security as regards healthy food and rural communities.
Regrettably, and to the detriment of our farmers and the environment, the SNP Government has been too slow in preparing our future agricultural system. Sadly, its route map fails to provide the certainty that farmers need. Farmers and crofters need to be given greater clarity sooner rather than later. Any further delay will cause more long-term damage to our agricultural sector and risk our nation’s ability to reach its ambitious climate change targets. Such views on the snail’s pace of progress from the Government are not only mine; they are shared by Chris Stark from the CCC, and farmer Andrew Moir, who, in his evidence to the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee only a couple of weeks ago, said:
“The arable sector is in grave danger of leaving the Scottish Government way behind. That is where we are. We are at the top of the curve compared with the Scottish Government, which is down at the bottom. We are leaving the Scottish Government way behind on the things that we are doing. I just want to make that point clear. The Scottish Government is in ... danger of losing ... control of farming”.—[Official Report, Rural Affairs and Islands Committee,1 March 2023; c 14.]
If we—rightly—insist that food production must be at the heart of future agricultural policy, it cannot be denied that the sector is absolutely committed to long-term sustainable food production, helping to tackle climate change and enhancing biodiversity. A great amount of work is already under way by many farmers to deliver in those areas despite the Government’s tardy approach.
We hear the Government say that it is important to work with the sector to get things right. I agree with that, but there comes a time when the Government must make its position clear. According to a recent NFU Scotland survey, its members remained worried about the uncertainty surrounding future agricultural policy. Although the route map is welcome, they say that greater urgency is required as regards the provision of more information and on how that will be delivered.
Last night in Parliament, representatives from Farming for 1.5°C set out the recommendations of its 2021 report. I stress that that report was published two years ago, but it was packed full of policies that could have started being delivered then. Its focus was on all the stuff that we already know works and can be delivered—not on the magic stuff that this Government will now need to happen if we are to reach net zero by 2045. We are two years behind, and two years closer to the climate and biodiversity cliff edge that we are all too often reminded of.
There is the national test programme and pilot schemes for soil testing, carbon audit and even £250—wow!—for animal health support. Those Government interventions are welcome, but they have been totally inadequate.
Of the current net zero measures and funding, one chair of the farmer-led group, Jim Walker, said:
“The only word that I can use to describe them is ‘embarrassing’. They include soil sampling with undefined outcomes, a carbon audit for farms that are not really quite sure what they will do with it once they have it and an animal health and welfare plan—which is interesting, because we have been doing them for years.”—[Official Report, Rural Affairs and Islands Committee, 1 March 2023; c 9.]
I have been one of the people who were employed to draw up such schemes so I know the costs of doing so and of doing those audits. Does the member share my concern that farmers will lose more money in employing surveyors and such like to draw up their plans than they will get in grants?
I agree absolutely. There is concern that future agricultural policy must be clear enough that we do not need a consultant at our kitchen table to work our way through it, to ensure that we are doing the right thing and maximising the benefits to the environment and helping our business.
The Government’s failure to introduce adequate schemes and to promote them sufficiently is, indeed, “embarrassing”, but the one word that is repeatedly stated to be missing from the policy is “outcomes”. The Government has completely failed to let farmers know what the outcomes and expectations of the national test programme are to be. The desired outcomes are so far undefined, which is totally unacceptable this late in the game. It is a sign that the Scottish Government is simply treading water and paying lip service, because it still does not know what it will do.
Martin Kennedy, the president of NFU Scotland, has said:
“if we get our future policy for Scottish agriculture wrong ... and listen to the ideology of those ... who cannot see the wider picture, then we will go in a backward direction”.
Given the challenges that Scottish agriculture faces at this time, someone would think that any politician worth their salt would be champing at the bit to come up with Scottish solutions to tackle the problems that farmers are facing. I can tell members now that we Conservatives are champing at the bit and ready to scrutinise and hold the Government to account. However, like the whole of the agricultural sector, we are being frustrated in our work because we are currently in an information vacuum, with no firm idea of the direction of travel that the policies to deliver a new agricultural support system will take.
I was at one of the committee’s evidence sessions just a couple of weeks ago, as a substitute member. We heard that data that might help us to figure out better approaches, such as on the uptake of the products that I mentioned, is missing. There is not a lot of data around that. Does the member think that that might need to be worked on as well?
Absolutely. I welcome that intervention. That point is absolutely clear. We have soil testing and carbon audits that have been done independently of the Government schemes, but those are not feeding in to give us a fuller picture. Therefore, in some ways, the Scottish Government is working blind in developing those policies despite six years of discussions with the farming sector.
In March 2022, the Scottish Government set out its vision for Scottish agriculture—the basis of the plan that would form the current farm funding model that will end in 2025. In February 2023, we heard the cabinet secretary reveal the agricultural reform route map, covering 39 measures that potentially would be included in the enhanced tier of the new funding model. However, details are still short, and the Government has still not released the details of the consultation that it has held on the proposed agriculture bill. The cabinet secretary said that those results will be available later in the spring, but every month that we wait is another month lost.
The route map is clearly too little, too late, but it did not have to be that way. As well as the hugely helpful and deliverable actions highlighted in the Farming for 1.5°C report, there is a whole list of interventions that we could have been making two years ago.
We have a climate-friendly scheme for suckler beef, which was created in 2021 by the farmer-led groups that were established to develop advice and proposals to the Scottish Government on cutting emissions and tackling climate change. However, those have been sidelined by the Government. What a missed opportunity. Some of those policies are now being used in Ireland to deliver carbon neutral beef, and we see very similar schemes in Australia where such beef is on sale on the shelves right now. What an opportunity. We should have grasped that with both hands.
The farming industry is desperate to invest and to protect not only our food security but our biodiversity and climate goals. However, we need the Government not only to listen to the industry—it says that it does that a lot—but to commit to act with urgency on what it hears from the industry to ensure that we achieve our collective aims and ambitions.16:25
There is an awful lot to cover in my closing speech. I want to touch on many important points that have been raised during the debate.
First, I am really grateful to members across the chamber for their contributions. There were a lot of really passionate contributions, which shows just how important we consider all these issues to be. The continued success of our agricultural sector matters to all of us here, and it is clear that we all recognise the essential role that our industry has in driving the rural economy, contributing to our nation’s food security and enabling the realisation of our world-leading climate and nature restoration outcomes.
As I set out in my introductory remarks, the Scottish Government has a positive vision for the future. It is one with our producers right at its core, which recognises the duty that our nation owes them, and which supports them to produce high-quality food while delivering for climate and nature restoration.
I will reiterate the clear path that I set out on how we will deliver that future, in partnership with our industry and with all who are committed to a vibrant and thriving rural Scotland. It is my intention to introduce a new Scottish agriculture bill this year—one that will provide the powers in the four-tier framework to deliver our vision for agriculture. Last month, I set out the agriculture reform route map, which shows that we are taking action now and providing the industry with more clarity and confidence on the key steps towards that coherent framework. We need to be clear that it is a coherent framework, which has been co-developed with partners to deliver our vision. It is also one that comes together through the whole farm plan—a tool that we will co-design with the industry to help our farmers and crofters to plan their businesses better and more sustainably.
I want to take a moment to again make a commitment that there will be no cliff edge for farmers and crofters in Scotland and to reiterate that the Scottish Government will maintain direct payments to ensure that we are supporting our nation’s producers.
I turn to comments that were made across the chamber. I want to quickly address a couple of points first.
Finlay Carson spoke of delays on the good food nation plans, which Oliver Mundell also criticised in his contribution. I emphasise that there is not a delay, but I would be happy to write to Mr Carson in his role as convener of the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee with information on the timescales to set those out if that would be helpful.
There were a lot of thoughtful contributions from across the chamber, including those from Beatrice Wishart, Alasdair Allan and Jim Fairlie, and even Edward Mountain, to a certain extent—I will give him that. [Laughter.]
I welcomed Brian Whittle’s interventions. I know that he was not actively taking part in the debate, but he did so through his interventions. I do not disagree with what he is trying to do or the points that he raised. When I talked about the good food nation plans, it was because they will tie together all those vital threads of food policy in one place and show how we will monitor and track progress against what we set out there.
Emma Harper put a really important focus on technology and innovation. I will ensure that I come back to that point in these closing remarks.
In her contribution, Rachael Hamilton touched on the funding element and spoke of enabling farmers to do what they need to do. I emphasise that that is exactly what we are currently trying to do in support. The member talked about the budget for slurry storage and how that had come up in evidence that the committee had heard. I say that I would have loved to have put more funding into the capital budget for the agricultural transformation fund this year, but there is no getting around this point. Since we left the EU, not only do we not have certainty of funding going forward; we are not getting the full replacement of EU funds that we were promised. Not only are we not getting full replacement of funds; we are only getting that replacement in resource funding.
Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention?
Before I take the intervention I would first like to finish this point, because it is important. Not only are we not getting the full replacement of funds; we are only getting that replacement in resource funding, instead of the mixture of capital and resource funding that we previously received.
That has meant that I have had to make incredibly difficult choices in relation to the capital budget, such as on what we can offer to assist with slurry storage. Another announcement that we made just last month was about the restricted agri-environment climate scheme—AECS—round. Again, that was a really difficult decision to make, and it is not where I—or, I think, anybody else in the chamber—would want us to be.
I do not recognise the cabinet secretary’s argument. The Scottish Government has had the highest block grant ever. She also has considerable latitude to make devolved decisions within the competence of the Scottish Government. I would like to know what she will do, in her role as cabinet secretary for rural affairs, with the Barnett consequential of £320 million that Jeremy Hunt has announced today. Will she put that towards AECS funding or rural affairs?
If we were getting full replacement of EU funds, and if it was going to where it needed to go, of course I would spend that within my portfolio. However, the fact is that we have not had the full replacement of EU funds, and our budget has been continually eroded. Those are all points that I covered when I appeared at the committee in relation to the budget.
While we are discussing funding, it is important to touch on a point that Oliver Mundell raised. I welcome the fact that he welcomed and recognised the importance of LFASS. He was very critical of the decisions taken by the Scottish Government, but it is only because of those decisions that we still have LFASS payments in Scotland and we have been able to maintain them at the current level.
There was a lot of talk around trade and a focus on food security and supporting our producers. I go back to Oliver Mundell’s contribution and some of the others that we heard, in which members would have liked just to gloss over Brexit and act as though it did not happen, and gloss over the trade deals and pretend that they have not had an impact on our industry. Although Mr Mundell was keen to talk up the benefits of trade deals for the whisky industry, he was silent on the impact on our farmers and food producers, who will be completely undermined by cheaper imports, with no limits on those a few years down the line.
There are fears that some of the policies that our Green colleagues might want to implement in Scotland will see us offshoring much of our food production. Perhaps at that point the cabinet secretary will welcome the trade deals with New Zealand and Australia, because offshoring might then be the only way we can get beef and meat into this country.
It is only the Tories in Scotland who seem to be welcoming those trade deals. Even members of their own party down south have said how they have pretty much sold our farmers and food producers down the river. Even the former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs does not agree that those deals work for farmers. Of course, he only said that after he left post, when he was quoted as saying that we did not need the “full liberalisation” of beef and sheep, because it is not in our national interests.
Will the cabinet secretary give way?
No—I am sorry. I need to make progress.
We have more trade deals coming down the pipeline. We have deals with Mexico, among many other countries. However, we have no guarantees that our producers are going to be protected through any of that. Why would they be? No doubt other countries will be looking for similar concessions to those that have already been given to Australia and New Zealand.
I want to touch on other important areas, and focus for a moment on Alasdair Allan’s contribution.
Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention?
Again, I am sorry, but I do just need to make some progress.
I want to focus on Alasdair Allan’s contribution and the really important focus on crofting that he talked about. Beatrice Wishart touched on that, too, as did Edward Mountain in one of his interventions. Crofting has a unique role in our nation and makes a social contribution to our most remote communities, such as through the examples of high nature value farming that Mr Allan touched on. That is why I will continue to invest in our crofters. Just this week, I announced that I will increase the grant rate for home improvements under the croft house grant from 40 per cent to 60 per cent, with a maximum grant of £38,000. Last year, the Scottish Government awarded more than £850,000 in such funding. Since we launched it in 2007, more than £24.2 million has been awarded to more than 1,100 families and individuals in rural and island communities.
From April 2020 to October 2022, we saw more 1,000 new entrants going into crofting, each of them representing a new or continued member of the local community. Of those, 42 per cent were island crofters, more than 40 per cent were female and more than 25 per cent were under 41 years of age. Those figures give a real sense of optimism for the future.
I come back to the points that Edward Mountain and Alasdair Allan raised about the need for crofting law reform. I do not disagree with them. They are right, and that is why I committed to it—I still am. The crofting bill group has been continuing to work on and develop the proposals for that legislation. I hope that those members will welcome the bill when it is introduced.
I come back to Emma Harper’s contribution about technology, and to Jenni Minto’s focus on investment in innovation. In her contribution, Ms Minto spoke about the important role of monitor farms and the fact that there will now be one on Islay. We have supported such farms through our knowledge transfer and innovation fund. Last October, I announced seven new projects—
Will the cabinet secretary take an intervention?
Could the cabinet secretary could offer some clarity on the way in which crofters can benefit from carbon credits?
And in conclusion, cabinet secretary.
If you could respond and begin to draw your remarks to a close. Thank you.
I reiterate to the member that we are continuing to develop all our policies in alignment with, and working with, our farmers and crofters to ensure that we get this right in a way that delivers for ruraI Scotland.
I want to emphasise just how important our networks are. The monitor farm network, the agriculture, biodiversity and climate change network and our integrating trees network are showcasing the best practice that is taking place right across Scotland. I encourage farmers and crofters to engage with those and to look at what is happening.
In conclusion—I am drawing to a close, Presiding Officer—change is a constant in response to which our farmers and crofters have always shown creativity and resilience. All that I have covered today, and all that I have committed towards supporting, should be seen in that context.
Our vision for agriculture is positive. It seeks to enable our producers to continue to thrive and to contribute to our nation’s food security, and to support them—as we do already—in ways that allow them to better manage changing market expectations and production realities, and in ways that recognise that agriculture has a crucial part to play in tackling the climate and nature emergencies. Farming and producing food in ways that support climate outcomes and restore nature is not just a future—it is the only future.
Our approach to working with the industry will not change. It ensures that what we build together can be delivered, and I reiterate that I am clear that it ensures that there will be no cliff edges for our producers. Through the delivery of our new framework, and through continuing to work with our farmers and crofters who are the real experts, I am confident that we can deliver what I know all of us across the chamber want to see: a resilient, sustainable and profitable industry that is equipped to deal with the challenges that we face now, as well as those in the future.
That concludes the debate. It is now time to move on to the next item of business.
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