SCOTLAND’S FUTURE agricultural support scheme should have no room for ‘slipper farmers’ with income support being conditional to delivering on environmental and biodiversity goods.

That was the message delivered by NFU Scotland, stressing that the clock is ticking down on the Scottish Government delivering a support scheme, as it outlined its own proposals, focusing on the simultaneous delivery of food production, climate change and biodiversity ambitions.

The new proposals pull together all of the recommendations of the farmer led groups into a single coherent approach, which the authors argue will work for farm businesses of all types and sizes across Scotland.

“The model that we are working on is a baseline of income support that increasingly becomes conditional, so ramping up in terms of biodiversity conditions and greenhouse gas emissions and that in itself will engender a change process,” said SRUC agri-economist Steven Thomson.

“It will need significant support; a lot of businesses will need their hands held and real direction throughout this process. We think there needs to be transformation support, so capital support, technical support, advisory support.

“We still need targeted agri-environmental support. Forestry and AECS type schemes will continue to be needed if we are ever to deliver at the top end particularly on carbon sequestration front.”

NFUS director of policy, Jonnie Hall, added that future policy can no longer be about binary choices: “It cannot be about food production on the one hand or climate challenges, emission reductions and biodiversity on the other. We need an agricultural policy that meets all three of these requirements simultaneously.

“Over the past few years rhetoric has all been around change and now we need to get into a phase of delivery. It is now the time for action,” he stressed, adding his concerns that there has been an ‘incredible hiatus’ in delivering on the recommendations of the farmer led groups, urging for the government to move on this with a ‘matter of urgency.”

Commenting on ScotGov’s manifesto commitment to appoint an implementation board to take forward the farmer led group recommendations within first 100 days in parliament, union president Martin Kennedy said: “This board is there to implement recommendations, not to go round the houses again and collate more information.

“We cannot wait till 2025 to then play catchup, we need to implement things now if we are to stand any chance of getting to 2030 and being in a position to then move on again.”

Mr Hall injected that they are not asking for more money for the industry but have identified existing funding streams. “This is about a redeployment of existing budgets and making them work effectively and efficiently. That therefore is a payback to the taxpayer in terms of demonstrating the value for money we are delivering for that.”

He added that although Scotland is keeping one eye on what is happening with CAP in Europe, it needs to take a unique approach: “The way CAP reform is panning out in Europe I don’t think that it would cut it in a Scottish context given the scale and nature of challenges here. We need a uniquely Scottish approach within the UK and within Europe.”

Steven Thomson pointed out that having a significantly different agricultural support system to that of the rest of the UK ‘will probably lead to tensions’ but added that there are vastly different conditions already and that ultimately everyone is looking to deliver the same outcomes.