IN RESPONSE to the Scottish Government’s proposed Agriculture and Rural Communities (Scotland) Bill, the Soil Association has said that it welcomes both the vision for agriculture and the recognition that it aims to deliver for organic and agroecological farmers and crofters.
The framework bill was introduced late last week by Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, Mairi Gougeon MSP. It will introduce new powers as part of primary legislation upon which Scotland’s future agriculture policy, due to be introduced from 2026 onwards, will be built. The Bill will now begin its progression through the Scottish Parliament, with an expectation that it will be adopted by Summer 2024.
David McKay, Soil Association Scotland’s Head of Policy, said, “This will be a vital piece of legislation in reshaping public support for our farmers and crofters to produce food while helping to tackle the twin climate and nature crises.”
NFU Scotland also welcomed the bill but expressed frustration at the lack of detail. They said that farmers and crofters need the Scottish Government to use 2024 and 2025 as an effective, smooth transition for all agricultural businesses to hit the ground running from 2026.
Jonnie Hall, Director of Policy, NFU Scotland said, “Scottish agriculture is being asked to do much of the heavy lifting to meet Scotland’s climate and nature goals, whilst also continuing to produce food of the highest quality and sustain the socio-economic fabric of our rural communities##.
“Scottish agriculture is up to the task, but it will need economically viable support to provide financial stability and to recognise and reward the vast array of positive outcomes that only active farming and crofting can provide.”
David Mckay was also pleased to note the requirement within the Bill for Ministers to produce a code of practice for “sustainable and regenerative agriculture”, including an explanation of what the Scottish Government thinks this means. He said, “A clear definition would be welcome, particularly for those who are already farming to organic standards that are underpinned in law and backed by a robust inspection regime. We consider organic and agroecological approaches to be in line with the Scottish Government’s Vision, and therefore should be incentivised under the future support scheme.
“The real test of this government’s commitments on climate and nature will be in the detail of secondary legislation, including payment rates. There is a finite amount of public money that must deliver on multiple policy objectives. That is why Soil Association Scotland is urging all UK political parties to make a clear commitment to increasing spending on food and farming at next year’s general election, including a multi-year, ring-fenced funding commitment from the UK Government for the devolved administrations.”
NFU Scotland has indicated that there are sections of the legislation that need particular interrogation.
Jonnie Hall said, “We must, for example, have assurance of a multi-annual support framework. The legislation has to work for and with farmers and crofters if its goals are to stand any chance of success.
“Our priority right now is ensuring that the powers the Bill creates are capable of delivering a new agriculture support framework which puts agricultural activity and food production at the heart of Scottish Government policy.
“Beyond that, it’s paramount that those powers are then used to deliver the Union’s own vision of a ‘sustainable and profitable future for farmers and crofters’ because that is the only route to delivering all required outcomes.”