I believe Scotland should stay in the EU and help design a better CAP, but the Scottish Government must prepare to leave and start work on an Agriculture Bill now, says John Finnie, Green MSP for the Highlands and Islands.
As I write this column, we are still unsure if and when the UK will leave the EU. Uncertainty has been the one consistent factor in this process.
Uncertainty is bad enough for any business, but when you rely heavily on Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments coming from the EU, it risks becoming a nightmare scenario.
Sustainable farming practices require a long-term vision. Restoring our soils, incorporating forestry onto our farms, and boosting on-farm biodiversity can take generations.
The six-year delivery windows of the CAP are already too short-term in their nature, but the current situation farmers find themselves in – not knowing from one week to the next whether we are in, out, or hanging about in Brexit limbo – is having significant impact on long-term planning for our farmers.
The situation is made worse by the lack of clear information from our political leaders.
Certain people have been turning it into a political fight, telling farmers they will lose their payments overnight without an Agriculture Bill, or on the other hand payments will keep flowing undisturbed without the need for new legislation.
The reality is most likely somewhere in between. The transition agreement would have allowed for the Scottish Government to continue making farm payments until 2020 – but that agreement may now be dead in the water.
The Scottish Greens believe if we are forced to leave the EU against the will of an ever growing majority of people in Scotland, the Scottish Parliament is best placed to design and deliver a replacement to the CAP.
This needs to be done democratically, with engagement from parliament and stakeholders – not pushed through by a Cabinet Secretary rushing to meet a post-Brexit deadline.
It also must have climate change as a core principle for farm support.
Payments need to be designed to help farmers lower their climate change emissions, recognise and reward the land management techniques that help lock up carbon emissions in our soils and forests, and help farmers adapt to the inevitable changes in weather patterns we will see in the future, even if we manage to contain warming to 1.5 degrees globally.
Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing has previously said ‘there is plenty of time’ to consult on and design a new agriculture support system before 2020. I don’t quite agree with that.
I believe firmly that Scotland should stay in the EU and help design a better CAP scheme for the future, but we need to be prepared for that to not happen, and get working on a Scottish Agriculture Bill now.
John can be found tweeting at @JohnFinnieHI