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To put it bluntly, Scottish farmers have been left completely in the dark

The clear way forward for English farming must extend north of the border, says North East Scotland MSP Peter Chapman.

There is no doubt that the most significant development for farming in recent months has been the publication of the Agriculture Bill in Westminster.

 

The legislation brought forward by Defra Secretary Michael Gove is historic for the UK after nearly half a century under EU rules.

 

At the heart of the plan is a system for farmers and land managers to be paid for ‘public goods’ – such as better air and water quality, improved soil health, flood prevention, public access to the countryside and higher animal welfare standards.

 

Debate

 

As readers will be aware, this would replace the current direct payments, which are paid on the total amount of land farmed.

 

The publication of this bill has certainly sparked debate – with criticism levelled at Mr Gove for a document that talks a lot about the environment and not so much about food.

 

However, what it has done is provide a clear way forward for UK farming.

 

The problem for us here in Scotland is that it doesn’t apply north of the border.

 

Left in the dark

 

With fewer than six months to go until we leave the EU, we have yet to see any equivalent legislation brought forward at Holyrood.

 

The UK Government did offer to make provisions for the devolved administrations in the agriculture bill, creating a mirror framework to what is planned in England.

 

Both the Welsh Government and the department for environment in Northern Ireland have asked Westminster to legislate on their behalf, but the SNP refused.

 

That would be understandable if the SNP’s programme for government included an agriculture bill – but there is no such bill working its way through Holyrood.

 

To put it bluntly, Scottish farmers have been left completely in the dark.

 

There is a serious issue now as to what is going to happen after March next year.

 

Payments

 

The UK Government has confirmed that it will continue to provide funds at the same level as current EU farm payments for the duration of this parliament to 2022.

 

However, without legislation in the Scottish Parliament, it is difficult to see how payments will continue to be made in Scotland post March 2019.

 

Our farmers need to know what the rules are going to be and how the system will operate.

 

It is up to Fergus Ewing and the SNP to set out what that will look like.

 

We need to hear a lot more from the Rural Economy Secretary on this – and fast.

 

BSE risk

 

I cannot end this column without mentioning the BSE case reported at a farm in the north-east of Scotland last week.

 

At the time of writing, I am pleased to say that this looks to be an isolated incident which proves that the safeguards we have in place are robust and are working.

 

It does, however, mean that Scotland will lose its ‘negligible BSE risk’ status, which had been in place since 2016.

 

It will also have been a devastating blow for the farming family involved. My heart goes out to them, because they have done nothing wrong.

 

But I am sure, like all of us, they just want to make sure that it is dealt with properly and cleared up so that they can move on.

 

Peter can be found tweeting at @PeterChapmanMSP


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