Brexit mustn’t deliver a one size fits all approach for agriculture but must take in to account Scotland’s unique and diverse agricultural profile – that was the argument delivered by NFU Scotland at a Brexit policy conference on Scotland’s economy in Edinburgh, today (February 22).

Jonnie Hall, director of policy and member services at NFUS, used the Brexit ‘speed dating’ event as a unique opportunity to give agriculture a voice in Brexit negotiations in the mix with other industries.

For Scottish agriculture, Mr Hall outlined the main priorities for the industry moving forward – establishing future trade opportunities, access to skilled labour and clarity over future subsidy support, as key areas, essential to the future competitiveness and success of Scotland’s rural economy. He appealed to the audience to value the role of agriculture as a key contributor to the Scottish economy, and told them that farmers and crofters alone output over £3bn per year in to the economy and employ more than 65,000 full time jobs across Scotland.

On a new ‘common agricultural policy’-type model for the UK, Mr Hall reiterated that there was an opportunity to move away from CAP and recast how agriculture was supported with a bespoke support system. The current system, based on land ownership, did nothing to drive businesses forward, he said.

“CAP has given the agricultural industry a safety blanket for many years, however it has done little to incentivise the sector to embrace innovation moving forward in order to become more competitive, which is vital post Brexit, whatever the scenario. We have made it clear to DEFRA that a one size fits all policy would be unacceptable. Scotland doesn’t look like Cambridgeshire, we need bespoke measures which work for Scotland’s agricultural profile.

“Around 86% of Scottish land is LFA which makes farming options extremely limited and no two farms are the same, and as a farmer’s union we have the perennial problem of keeping everyone happy at the same time. One thing which is clear is how dependant the industry is on financial support and this has been made very clear in particular in our beef and sheep sectors. In 2016, 66% of farmers income was made up from farming payments,” stated Mr Hall.

As well as demonstrating the sectors dependence on these payments, Mr Hall made it clear that farmers not only support the Scottish economy through food and drink production, but they deliver huge social and environmental outputs also. He went on to put in to context how public support for farming is very much reabsorbed back in to local communities.

“For every £1 of public support invested in agriculture, farmers and crofters spend £5.30 on the local economy, investing in local suppliers, veterinary services, hauliers etc. Rural areas hang on the shirt tails of the agricultural industry and this must be protected moving forward,” he concluded.