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Cutting all financial support to the farming industry would be catastrophic

There is a debate to be had about post-Brexit farming policy in Scotland, but cutting all support would be catastrophic, says Gail Ross, MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross.

When it comes to Brexit, never has there been a more apt description than the old waiting for a bus. No announcements for weeks and then three come along at once.

 

First we had the Chequers agreement, that turned out not to be agreed at all, then Westminster published the Agriculture Bill and we will have to wait and see how that progresses.

 

Then I arrived home on Friday to find out the Prime Minister had pulled the BBC into Number 10 to essentially try to give an updated version of the famous ‘This Lady’s not for Turning’ speech Thatcher gave in 1980.

 

Much speculation and comment has been offered about what this speech actually meant. The Prime Minister is playing hard ball now with the EU, that’s for sure.

 

Rhetoric

 

I am growing increasingly worried about this rhetoric which claims if we crash out of the EU without a deal, somehow the other 27 nations are to blame.

 

That is a dangerous argument to make and one which only stokes up the increasing amount of ill-feeling around the country.

 

There has also been speculation about what a no-deal scenario would mean for Scotland.

 

The UK Government has already produced documents in preparation for no deal, with particular emphasis on the agriculture industry.

 

Some of it makes alarming reading, especially for our organic and soft fruits sector. The very fact the we are preparing for no deal is alarming in itself.

 

Cash

 

We have been told cash support for farmers will continue until 2022. No-one has told us what will happen after that.

 

Scotland will receive over £4.6 billion of payments between Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 in this current payment round. Can we afford to lose this funding?

 

I have heard arguments about how farmers should not get any subsidy. This is wrong.

 

There has been talk of a ‘countryside payment’ which would reward effort, helps farmers look after their environment and diversify if they want.

 

NFUS and others have published papers on what next, but one thing is for sure – cutting all support to the industry would be catastrophic.

 

Tariffs

 

I spoke about tariffs, cheap imports and a drop in animal welfare standards in my last piece, but the possibility of a no-deal now goes far beyond that.

 

Access to seasonal work is something many soft fruit growers are extremely concerned about.

 

Businesses are already losing out with fruit going unpicked and many fear this will be much worse next year.

 

Defra Secretary Michael Gove recently announced a pilot project for 2,500 workers for the UK between spring 2019 and December 2020.

 

Many in the industry have said this will barely scratch the surface, it is too little too late and is even ‘a slap in the face’.

 

Define

 

One thing is certain – things are going to change. It is how we react to that change that will define us.

 

Doug Avery, New Zealander and author of ‘The Resilient Farmer’, is currently on a tour of Scotland with many venues sold out.

 

Driven by the need to survive drought, Doug talks about how his own business was on its knees and how he built it and himself up again.

 

He said: “I have learned that as a farmer, you need to be sustainable across three pillars — financial, environmental and social.

 

“Around each pillar, you need to build resilience, by accessing integrated knowledge and support. It is not about business as usual with a few concessions. It is a whole new road.”

 

Invaluable

 

If you haven’t been able to make it along to one of Doug’s events, look up his website or read his book. He has invaluable advice on how to manage and even embrace change and make it work.

 

He also talks openly about mental health. Mental ill health in rural areas is on the rise.

 

I am due to host an event in the Scottish Parliament next month with the Rural Mental Health Forum to talk about this very topic.

 

Mental illness, in males particularly, often goes unnoticed and untreated because many men are unwilling to talk about it. There is advice out there.

 

If you are living in a rural area and are struggling, please understand that you are not alone. There is strength in asking for help.

 

Gail can be found tweeting at @GailRossSNP


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