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The huge fall in Scottish farm incomes should be a wake-up call for Ministers

Scottish farm incomes dropped by a staggering £57m in 2018 – that should be a wake-up call to politicians who are mismanaging Brexit, says Mike Rumbles, Scottish Lib Dem agriculture spokesman.

Agriculture is a major contributor to the great success of our food and drink sector in Scotland.

 

So it was disappointing to have figures produced by the Office of National Statistics in January confirmed by the Scottish Government this week, that farm income fell by a staggering £57 million in 2018.

 

A drop of almost 8 per cent.

 

Overall, the food and drink sector employs 120,000 people in Scotland and is now our largest manufacturing sector, accounting for 19 per cent of total manufacturing turnover.

 

It is worth £14.4 billion to the Scottish economy, including exports worth £6bn.

 

Ambitious

 

That is a 70 per cent increase since 2007, and producers have set the ambitious target of increasing that figure to £30 billion by 2030.

 

So you would think our Government Ministers in Edinburgh and Westminster would be keen to support our agricultural businesses to achieve those targets.

 

But instead of assisting the sector, both the UK Government and the Scottish Government have had a hand in creating a ‘hostile environment’ for farm businesses in Scotland.

 

Bad weather and increasing overheads may be beyond the control of Ministers, but three years of incompetent handling, delays to rural support payments by the Scottish Government and chaos in Westminster over Brexit has only made matters worse.

 

Emergency

 

Last month, the Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing confirmed to me that the emergency loan system, put in place by the Scottish Government in 2015/16 to deliver £500 million of Common Agricultural Policy funding, is likely to continue for at least another year.

 

We are in the absurd situation where the Scottish Government must administer farm payments twice each year, once as a loan and then again to pay off the loan.

 

This has contributed to £1.8 million extra expenditure in staff overtime since 2015.

 

It has been estimated by Food and Drink Scotland, NFU Scotland and others that Brexit could cost our farming, fishing and crofting sectors a total of £2 billion per year.

 

Uncertainty about the future is stifling growth in our rural economy and harming rural communities.

 

Distracted

 

The SNP and Tories are completely distracted, but these damaging figures and the reality of falling farm incomes need to be a wake-up call for Ministers about the serious issues facing our rural communities.

 

Food and drink is at the very heart of our culture and traditions in Scotland.

 

Generations upon generations of Scottish farmers, and more recently thousands of migrant EU workers, have contributed to our world-class food and drink sector.

 

It is the duty of our two Governments to prepare and provide a framework that is fair and protects and enhances our farm businesses for the future.


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