Scottish farmers deserve to know when to expect an Agriculture Bill which will set out a real and tangible plan for their future, says Donald Cameron MSP, Scottish Conservative Shadow Rural Economy Secretary.
Many of the people I have met in the farming sector, be it in the Highlands and Islands region I represent, or across wider Scotland, just want to see a swift resolution to the first stage of the Brexit process, and a Brexit deal which would stave off uncertainty.
While the cross-party Brexit talks remain an ongoing process, it is important that politicians here in Scotland use this time to work with the agricultural sector to develop a post-Brexit plan for farming.
Much criticism has been rightly levelled at Scotland’s Rural Economy Secretary, Fergus Ewing, for thus far failing to deliver any real and tangible plan for Scotland’s farmers and crofters to chew over.
This uncertainty has been further compounded by the Scottish Government’s lack of information as to when it will introduce a Scottish Agricultural Bill to Parliament.
Instead, we have seen the creation of various new expert groups, taskforces, and advisory panels to look into future farming policy.
While many of these groups are led by respectable figures, and will undoubtedly look seriously at the issues to hand, many in the sector are concerned by the lack of any real vision for the future of Scottish farming on behalf of the Scottish Government.
One of the key issues raised recently in the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Economy and Connectivity committee was that of ‘less favoured area’ payments.
85 per cent of land in Scotland is considered ‘less favoured area’, compared to just 15 per cent in England.
It is the view of the Scottish Conservatives that a new post-Brexit Scottish support system should not only see LFASS payments retained, but built upon, to ensure support is targeted appropriately, especially to upland livestock farmers and crofters.
But one of the immediate concerns for many in the sector are the potential cuts to LFASS payments which have been passed down by the EU, with next year’s payments dropping to 80 per cent of the current total, and then to 40 per cent in 2020.
Fergus Ewing has failed to confirm what progress has been made on his promised ‘workaround’ for LFASS payments, and in doing so has not provided the certainty Scottish upland farmers and land managers urgently need.
Both the NFUS and the Scottish Crofting Federation have been critical of cuts to LFASS.
It is clear immediate action is required now to deal with industry-threatening cuts, and also that any future support for less favoured areas must be fully funded and targeted to support our farmers and crofters so Scotland continues to have a thriving and diverse agricultural sector.
Donald can be found tweeting at @DAJCameron