Farming and food production in Scotland boasts a rich provenance few countries can match. But the sector is also unique when it comes to the challenges of Brexit. Almost all of the impacts of the UKwide vote to leave the EU are amplified when it comes to the Scottish rural economy.
So there can be little doubt this will be the defining issue for farmers over the coming years. Remote and fragile communities will suffer disproportionately if targeted support is withdrawn, seasonal workforces become harder to recruit, and access to one of our most important markets is restricted.
These issues are compounded by the UK Government’s readiness to assume control of powers over agricultural policy, which currently lie with the EU, as they are repatriated. There is no doubt among industry leaders these powers should return to the Scottish Government, and the other devolved administrations of the UK, where they can be shaped to reflect the needs of the industry specific to those nations.
Regrettably, attempts by Scottish Government to secure a compromise or assurances around repatriation of powers have been rebuffed.
The desire to formulate a one-sizefits- all UK policy will struggle to encompass diversity and scope of Scottish agriculture; the viability of which underpins our rural economy and which supports about 400,000 jobs. Any adverse impact on primary production will have a knock-on effect on our booming food and drink sector, which is so vital to the Scottish economy and which continues to grow apace.
The EU is the UK’s single largest trading partner in agri-food products and is particularly important for Scottish beef and lamb. It is therefore vital we retain access to the Single Market. If such an arrangement could be implemented, it could facilitate a pragmatic way to allow continued movement of labour.
Without access to this labour resource, both agriculture and food manufacturing will face a severe skills shortage, particularly of veterinary professionals and skilled labour in meat processing and horticultural harvest sectors. Experienced staff from the EU are already leaving the UK and this is an issue which must be acknowledged and addressed as a matter of urgency.
The Scottish Government currently supports the desires of the industry in Scotland to enshrine best practice and first class standards of production and welfare. We must maintain the ability to decide policies on our environment and support going forward. Our Scottish brand is a premium product, recognised throughout the world for its provenance and outstanding quality.
This key strength of Scottish farming and food production must be protected, for the sake of not just our rural communities, but as a key part of our national interest and future economic prosperity.