Industry bodies have issued a plea for the Scottish Government to ‘move on’ with developing a post-Brexit agricultural policy.
Jonnie Hall, director of policy at NFU Scotland, led the calls during a Scottish Affairs Committee hearing held yesterday in Ecclesmachan, Broxburn.
Under the plans set out in the Scottish Government’s Stability and Simplicity Consultation launched last June, farmers in Scotland will continue to receive direct payments until 2024, but there were no longer-term proposals for changes to farm support.
Mr Hall told MPs the Scottish Government had done the right thing in trying to bring about a degree of certainty, but Ministers now had to ‘move beyond’ the stability principle and set out a future pathway for the industry – even though change would result in ‘casualties’.
He said: “There is a clear direction of travel and a transition process set out in the UK Agriculture Bill for England, and to a degree for Wales and Northern Ireland as well.
“I am not suggesting for a minute we go down the same trajectory, but we do still need a pathway for Scottish agriculture.
“The stability and simplicity rationale is all good, but it only takes us so far, we do then need to move beyond it.”
Eleanor Kay, agriculture policy adviser at Scottish Land and Estates, agreed.
She said: “For any industry to change, it has to know the direction of travel from Government, and at the moment, we are lacking that.
“While we do have an Agriculture Bill on the cards, we do not know when it is going to come, and we also do not know what the Government’s intention is in terms of what it wants to support.”
Mr Hall went on to suggest the Scottish Government should move towards payments which drive productivity and incentivise adoption of innovative practices, citing the Beef Efficiency Scheme as a possible model.
“It has been much criticised, partly because of the way it has been rolled out, but if you actually strip it back to the principles of what farmers are being asked to do, it is sound,” he said.