FARMERS leaders have backed ScotGov's latest step towards reform of Scotland's agricultural policy – but have pledged to walk away from the process if it does not deliver.

On Wednesday, Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon announced the creation of a long-awaited implementation board – formally titled the Agriculture Reform Implementation Oversight Board (ARIOB) – and named NFUS president Martin Kennedy as her co-chair in the venture, alongside individuals representing a range of farming, geographical and environmental interests.

These include farmers Joyce Campbell, Robert Fleming, Scott Henderson, Alison Milne, Andrew Moir, Anne Rae McDonald, Pete Ritchie, Claire Simonetta and Sarah Simpson; crofter Donald Mackinnon, and Scottish Pig Producers MD Andy McGowan; alongside Marion MacCormick of Scotland Food and Drink, Kate Rowell of QMS, RSPB trustee Vicki Nash, academics Mark Reed and Mike Robinson, Louise Welsh of Food Standards Scotland, Tim Bailey of SAOS, Adele Jones of the Sustainable Food Trust and Nikki Yoxall of NatureScot.

This ARIOB will help to develop new proposals for sustainable farming support based on the earlier Farmer-led Groups' recommendations, the Climate Change Plan Update and other industry reports. ScotGov promised that the group would place farmers and crofters at the heart of a future support framework and help Scottish agriculture become more economically and environmentally sustainable.

Most pressingly, in order to deliver early action on implementing measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, the group will develop a preliminary package of funded measures for agreement by this November's COP 26. This test programme be based on the work of the FLGs, with an early focus on livestock emissions, in particular the detailed work taken forward to a more advanced stage by the Suckler Beef Group.

NFU Scotland president Martin Kennedy said: “We have been clear and consistent in our message to Government that the time for talking is over and the time for delivery on a new agricultural policy for Scotland is now. The reason I have agreed to co-chair this group is to ensure that delivery happens.

“In the past four years, NFUS, through publication of our ‘change’ documents, has driven that debate recognising the need for change. In July, working with leading academics, we pulled together the recommendations of all five farmer-led groups into a cohesive vision for future agricultural policy in Scotland.

“The Suckler Beef group’s work was at the most advanced stage, and we welcome the commitment that the national scheme that this implementation group is to deliver will be open to all beef farmers. That is welcome progress and a clear commitment to delivering on industry-led change.

“Across all sectors, there will be difficult choices ahead and I want to see policies implemented that support all farmers and crofters, enabling them to be profitable and sustainable whilst delivering on our obligation to reduce our carbon footprint and bolster our natural environment.

“I would like to have seen all FLG chairs as part of this implementation group but for those not involved, I give them my reassurance that I will hold Scottish Government to account on delivery," added Mr Kennedy, in what may be interpreted as a nod to Jim Walker, who led the suckler beef FLG, but who did not make the ARIOB cut. "Timescales have been set for the implementation group to deliver a national test programme and I want to see that in place and on time.

“A future agricultural policy that delivers for Scotland is the biggest priority of this union. I am committed to making this process work, but I won’t hesitate to walk if I believe our ambitions are being stifled or if the drive to put in place what our fantastic farming industry needs starts to fail.”