BREXIT may be the catalyst for a generational change in Scottish farming, with one in five Scottish farmers and crofters preparing to retire early rather than adapt to the changes ahead.

Responding to a survey conducted by Scotland’s Rural College, over half of respondents said that Brexit had increased their business uncertainty, and reduced their willingness to invest on farm.

The survey findings were revealed in 'Rural Scotland in Focus 2016' – the fourth edition of the biennial report produced by SRUC’s Rural Policy Centre – which concluded that, in an ageing industry, more control must be passed to younger people who may be more ready to adapt to the changed business environment.

SRUC agricultural economist Steven Thomson said: “Brexit is clearly causing uncertainty – and some farmers have told us that means they are thinking of retiring earlier than planned.

"Scottish agriculture is used to change. Some of that has been in response to market demands and environmental pressure, but a key driver has been the various CAP regimes. Our report shows how vital that support has been – and still is – to the industry, especially the beef and sheep sectors.

“Under Brexit, we don’t know what will replace it yet, but assume there will be budgetary pressures – meaning innovation and new approaches will be key to making farming more resilient. Being traditionally unsupported by the CAP, soft fruit growers, pig producers and others have shown the way. It is no coincidence they tend to be run by a younger generation – ready and able to grab opportunities, adopting new technologies and research ideas.”

One third of the farmers surveyed indicated that, with Brexit, they were likely to need to increase off-farm income or diversify their businesses. That theme recurred in the report's look at the future for woodland and forestry in Scotland.

The report suggested that many farmers and landowners still don’t see the value of integrating more woodland into their farming businesses, while some foresters don’t see the need to increase the resilience of their woodland for the long term..

Farming and forestry often tend to dominate rural policy discussion, but the report urged policy-makers to look beyond the land-based sector to the 37,000 small and medium sized enterprises in rural Scotland which operate outside those primary sectors.

The report's authors said that a lack of evidence and knowledge had fed the false assumptions that the rural economy meant agriculture, and that cities were the only engines for growth. On the contrary, the report argued that the success of businesses involved wildlife tourism, food and drink, energy production and a wide range of service-related activities all challenged that outlook.

Report editor Professor Sarah Skerratt said that documents like the Scottish Government’s 'Future of Scottish Agriculture' could provide a starting point for establishing a rural strategy post Brexit, but not at the expense of communities or SMEs.

“Rural communities and businesses are resourceful, innovative and co operative," said Prof Skerratt. "These are qualities all those involved in the rural economy must adopt. But to be effective that must be within a coherent, overarching strategy, taking account of the possible conflicts and properly monitored so it can be adapted based on real evidence. That way we can have a greener, smarter and more prosperous Scotland.”