The Scottish Government should stop direct payments to farmers and move towards a public money for public goods scheme after Brexit, MPs have been told.
Representatives from WWF Scotland, the Scottish Wildlife Trust and Soil Association Scotland pushed for a Defra-style system of post-Brexit support when giving evidence to the Scottish Affairs Committee last week.
The Scottish Government has traditionally spent more on direct support than England, with less money transferred from pillar one to pillar two under Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) rules and coupled payments still available to support the beef and sheep sectors.
But Sheila George, food and environment policy manager at WWF Scotland, told the committee Scotland’s unique environment – which includes 13 per cent of the world’s blanket bogs and 90 per cent of the UK’s surface water – would benefit from a public money for public goods scheme in future.
“The current system of public support is area-focused, production-focused, and we need to change the definition of production and productivity to broaden it out to include public goods,” she said.
“When we do that, we see Scotland could have huge potential to deliver and develop a much more sustainable agriculture system.”
Bruce Wilson, public affairs manager at the Scottish Wildlife Trust, agreed and claimed it would be easier for politicians to sell agriculture spending linked to public goods to the taxpayer.
He also suggested a public money for public goods scheme would help Scottish farmers to stay in business after Brexit.
“If we do not look after the natural ecosystems which underpin our agriculture ecosystems, we will struggle to have a sustainable food sector going forward,” he said.
“There is some genuine concern about food security underpinning this. Diverting public money to public goods does not preclude the ability to farm. It actually supports it, and it allows businesses to diversify.”
The environmental groups were giving evidence to MPs shortly after farming bodies issued a plea for the Scottish Government to ‘move on’ with developing a post-Brexit policy.
Jonnie Hall, director of policy at NFU Scotland, led the calls during a previous Scottish Affairs Committee hearing in January, though he said he would ‘not suggest for a minute’ that Scotland should go down the same route as England.