One of Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing’s urgent priorities when he spoke to the NFU Scotland annual conference was to quickly quell worries about the availability of seasonal workers this summer.
An announcement less than 24 hours earlier over the need for overseas arrivals in Scotland to quarantine for 10 days at the cost of £1,750 looked like it could throttle the supply of fruit and vegetable pickers from Eastern Europe.
The threat was a particularly acute in Scotland because the new rules cover arrivals from all countries, not just those on the UK ’red list’.
Mr Ewing, however, announced that, as they had in 2020, seasonal migrants would be allowed to isolate on their specified farm for the quarantine period and that they would be allowed to harvest edible crops during that period.
Mr Ewing also announced he would be authorising Basic Payment Scheme loans as he has in recent years with payments in farm accounts in September.
“It is part of our payment strategy. We have had problems in the past with making payments on time but these have been fixed.
"Pillar One Payments for 2020 commenced on December 15, an improvement of two months on the previous, to 93 per cent of eligible businesses," he told the online audience.
"This is money you have earned – it is not a subsidy."
Mr Ewing said he would be placing great store in the reports of the five farmer-led groups which he had charged with looking at the challenges of moving to low carbon farming.
The Suckler Beef Group under Jim Walker had already reported and the intention was that the arable, upland farming, pig and dairy groups would all have completed their work before the pre-election purdah period begins in March.
Mr Ewing added if his party won the election and he was offered the rural affairs portfolio again he would ’accept in a nanosecond’.
He was hesitant to comment on the ongoing public consultation on animal transport on the grounds that it would be wrong to do so while it was underway.
Similarly, he was reluctant to commit funds to alleviating the plight of pig farmers following the recent Covid-19-related closure of the Brechin factory.
“I am looking at the situation. I cannot compensate for loss of income but I can address hardship,“ he said.