The industry stakeholder group, Food & Agricultural Stakeholders Taskforce (FAST), has welcomed some of the clarity provided by the cabinet secretary at the NFUS Conference on February 10, 2023. Better communication from the Scottish government had been called for and FAST was set up in autumn 2022, representing 20 farming, crofting and production organisations, to help shape a constructive agricultural policy.
Teresa Dougall, the group’s rotating chair, said that the announcement from the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Islands, Mairi Gougeon, was a good start, but more detail would be vital to the success of the policy: “This is no panacea, but it does give us the best insight into Scottish Government’s future plans for farming to date. However, we’d once again urge the Government to better engage with the industry to get it right. Poor or ill-informed decisions on future financial and policy support could destabilise and damage primary production businesses, negatively impacting the wider supply chain at the same time.
“We are calling again for greater co-design with industry, which the Government has said it wants, and better communication on the details so businesses can plan ahead. FAST’s door is very much open to work constructively together with Scottish Government on this, and we’ve invited ministers and civil servants to meet with us and take advantage of the huge wealth of perspectives we can offer from around the table.”
Ms Gougeon is scheduled to meet with FAST in March, with opposition parties also expressing interest in meeting with the group.
Ms Dougall, managing director of Scottish Quality Crops (SQC) continued: “Whilst having an understanding of what funding will come from Westminster is crucial, we cannot continue to see this being used as an excuse for lack of progress on Scottish policy. It’s as difficult an environment to work in as we’ve ever had as agricultural organisations and businesses, and we can’t afford to get it wrong through lack of understanding and misguidedly gold plating farm businesses.”
FAST members pointed out that lack of clear communication will restrict progress, as exemplified by the low uptake of the National Test Programme.
“We knew something was coming, but the detail was poorly communicated. By the time the National Test Programme was announced, consultants didn’t have the capacity to take on the work, some farmers have been discouraged by having to submit claims themselves or not fully understanding its proposed merits, and the consequence is that uptake so far has been very low.
“As plans are announced for new conditionality requirements, beef calf, sheep and arable schemes, we’d urge policy makers to avoid gold plating and to work with industry to co-design a practical agricultural policy that promotes food production in healthy landscapes and gives workable, long-term security to businesses along the food supply chain,” she concluded.