The Scottish Government says Brexit is a great threat to agriculture, but consistently late CAP payments cause just as many problems for farmers, says Mike Rumbles, MSP for the North East of Scotland.
Two weeks ago Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing came to Parliament to make a statement on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
This is not new territory for him. This is his tenth statement on CAP or farming support since he took up the role in 2016.
There has been a long list of failings since then, but what he has managed in that period is an enduring consistency of message – he still has not got it right and he still is not giving farmers and crofters the support they deserve.
Whatever your views on Brexit, Scotland’s quality agricultural produce is world leading and there are a great many opportunities I want to see our Governments take advantage of.
That means having a system of support payments working to the strengths of our rural industries.
Historically, CAP payments were dispersed in December, with the aim of tiding people through the winter months and allowing farm businesses to invest in feed, seed and equipment for the following year. The European sanction deadline is officially June.
Regrettably, the SNP Government has failed to meet this well-established pattern and has had to introduce loan schemes in each of the last three years to get money to our rural communities.
What is especially troubling is that they present this tired old ‘initiative’ as a creative solution to a problem which is entirely of their own making.
The agricultural payments landscape in Scotland is complex, and it is for that very reason the myriad of failures within it are routinely overlooked.
But each new announcement of delays should necessitate us revisiting the whole sorry picture. Not on time has become the new norm.
The Scottish Government maintains that Brexit is the greatest threat to Scottish agriculture, and it certainly is a large one.
But delayed, unreliable and inconsistent CAP payments are also front runners in the list of threats to an already hard pressed industry.
Scotland’s rural population is growing. People rightly recognise it is a wonderful place to live and work.
But if we want to sustain that, the Government needs to feed the farms and rural organisations that make it both possible and attractive.
Fergus Ewing has been failing Scottish farmers for years. He sweeps it aside with convoluted explanations as to why his computers still cannot dish out payments after years of updates.
He marches out a new crowd pleaser strategy if there is an agricultural show on the horizon and he stalls planning for the future because he is out of ideas.
We sit in 2018 with a colossal bill of £178 million for a flawed IT system, hundreds of thousands of pounds spent on CAP staff overtime, an uncertain post-Brexit outlook, weather-beaten businesses, a weaker rural economy and increasingly distrustful farmers.
Farmers from Galloway to Shetland are not fooled. This is not good enough and they should demand better.