PROFITABLE, sustainable agriculture is 'fundamental' to Scotland's response to the climate and biodiversity crisis – and newly empowered Green MSPs could do worst than get out onto some farms and see the proof of that for themselves.

For half a year now, Scottish farmers have been waiting with increasing anxiety for some notion of how the Scottish Government plans to proceed with its post-European Union agricultural policy, an area of work almost uniquely poised on the intersection between the domestic politics of independence, the international politics of Brexit and the global concerns of greenhouse gas emissions.

Former rural affairs cabinet secretary Fergus Ewing left a hefty legacy of detailed policy suggestions, brainstormed by the Farmer Led Groups he created specifically to inform ScotGov's thinking – but since his successor Mairi Gougeon took over the post after the Scottish elections, she has not moved a muscle to enact any of those industry-backed measures, and farmers' optimism has wilted. Now, with the announcement that the SNP has reached a formal understanding with the Scottish Greens, there is outright cynicism as to the likely contents of a stand-alone Scottish agricultural policy.

However, NFU Scotland president Martin Kennedy this week made it clear that he was not giving up hope: “A profitable, sustainable agricultural industry is not only at the heart of a thriving rural economy, but fundamental to the nation’s green recovery and our response to the joint climate and biodiversity crises.

“Delivering a future Scottish agricultural policy that is fit for purpose must be a priority for the coalition between SNP and Greens," he stressed. "It must provide the platform around which greener policy ambitions on land management, land use, reducing emissions and improving the environment can be built alongside food production.

“Members have justifiable concerns around the delivery of policy areas like Regional Land Use Partnerships, species protection and afforestation targets that have been highlighted in the coalition agreement. As a union, we have a very good working relationship with Scottish Government and Ministers that we will look to maintain and build on and use any consultation opportunities to ensure policies are fit for purpose.

“Once appointed, we would also look to welcome new Green party ministers on farm to see first-hand the tremendous contribution farmers and crofters are making in tackling the climate emergency, delivering for nature and putting high quality, sustainable food and drink on the nation’s tables," said Mr Kennedy. “For that excellent work to continue, we need viable, profitable farming and crofting businesses across rural Scotland.”

However, less patient voices within the industry have described the whole Farmer Led Group initiative as 'knackered', and predicted that the Green votes that the SNP needs to press its constitutional bid for another independence referendum will be bought at the expense of traditional farming businesses – even the ones with a strong carbon-neutral case to make.

More specifically, the landowners' body Scottish Land and Estates has warned against the newly bonded SNP and Green relationship taking too 'ideological' an approach to the countryside.

Chief executive Sarah-Jane Laing said: “For some time there has been significant concern amongst rural communities and businesses that votes on policies of huge significance to rural Scotland were being traded in return for support on high-profile issues such as the annual budget. We wait to see how the coalition announcement will impact that perception.

“The policy programme as laid out provides some areas of optimism, such a commitment to developing Regional Land Use Partnerships, increasing woodland creation targets and financially supporting food production in return for improving natural capital. That said, we see the prospect of punitive land reform measures – despite two land reform acts in the last 20 years – and pursuing further culling of deer. Neither of these measures will serve the environment or rural communities well.

“There will be significant unease if the new coalition takes an ideological approach rather than one that seeks to bring people together," she said. "We want to work with the new government and believe the best outcome for the environment can be achieved by constructive partnership with our members.”