Farming in Scotland needs to change if we are to come close to meeting our climate targets, but the Scottish Government’s Agriculture Bill sets out no plans for reform, says John Finnie, Green MSP for the Highlands and Islands.
There’s a new Agriculture Bill - the niftily named ‘Agriculture (Retained EU Law and Data) (Scotland) Bill’ - making its way through the legislative process of the Scottish Parliament.
We know the UK is leaving the EU and therefore statutory status quo is not an option.
This Bill gives powers to Scottish Ministers to: Make changes to ‘simplify or improve the operation of’ any part of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) legislation and to provide for the continued operation of the CAP legislation in domestic law in Scotland post-2020.
Among a myriad of possible changes, industry is likely to focus on the fact that Ministers may set a national ceiling for spending beyond 2020, move money between Pillar 1 and Pillar 2 and set a cap on payments paid to a single recipient.
To many, a new Agriculture Bill in the Scottish Parliament could represent a period of great optimism for farmers and crofters at a time of significant anxiety.
However, this is a not an all-singing all-dancing new Bill which addresses the widely acknowledged shortcomings of CAP and puts in place an innovative approach to ensuring our nation has a supply of quality food.
Neither does it directly address the ‘climate emergency’ colleagues in other parties profess to acknowledge and allegedly want to tackle.
Rather, this is a piece of enabling legislation which means present arrangements continue.
Not that this applies to the important Agri-environment Scheme which closes to new entrants next year.
It is a simple fact that agriculture in Scotland needs to change if we are to come close to meeting our climate targets.
Business as usual is no longer a viable approach, but the industry needs to be supported during the transition to a more ecologically sound model.
This Bill gives no indication as to how the Scottish Government intends to achieve that aim.
Talk about providing stability sounds admirable, but ignores the fundamental instability of our times.
If we are to reduce agricultural emissions by the amount necessary, then the industry will need direction and support from Government.
While we are at the very first stages of the Bill, and the finished product may look very different from the current proposals, if the long-term policy intention doesn’t change significantly, it will represent a missed opportunity.
The importance of farming and crofting in Scotland cannot be overstated, but that’s exactly why the sector cannot be left to flap in the wind waiting for Government to make its mind up what the future looks like.
John can be found tweeting at @JohnFinnieHI