By Fergus Ewing

Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy

2019 is set to be the most crucial year for our rural communities and businesses in a generation, with Brexit representing a significant threat to our rural economy.


My number one ask for 2019 is that Scotland, and the rest of the UK, does not leave the EU. Scotland did not vote to leave, and if we are forced to do so, then it will be hugely damaging to our agriculture and rural businesses. Therefore, the Scottish Government is working tirelessly to prevent this from happening.

However, if we are forced to leave, the Scottish Government is preparing as best we can with the resources we have and under the budgetary pressures we face.

I have been crystal clear that Scotland should not be financially worse off as a result of Brexit, and that all lost EU funding must be replaced in full. With the Prime Minister’s deal seemingly floundering, we continue to push for an extension to Article 50 – allowing for an alternative solution and to stop the clock on the proposed deal, as it clearly does not command support.

Strategic approach to farming

Our determination to protect rural Scotland is at the heart of our Brexit transition plan, 'Stability and Simplicity', which sets out the most detailed proposals of any UK administration. Unlike the DEFRA for England, I will not be abolishing direct payments, nor will I fail to put food production at the centre of our future plans.

Importantly, our continuity approach does not rely in any way on the UK Government’s Agriculture Bill. So while I understand the clamour for long term policy beyond 2024, I feel strongly that we need to get this right, and our five-year period of stability is designed to give us time to properly consider proposals and stakeholder feedback.

My aim for 2019 will be to seek input from a wide range of sources so that a future support system is one in which everyone can have confidence.

Payment success

Similarly, farm payments are essential to many rural businesses the length and breadth of Scotland, which is why I was particularly pleased that we have paid 95% of all pillar 1 and the vast majority of pillar 2 payments. In all, by the end of the year, we will have paid more than £500 million into rural businesses.

The result has been that our farmers received their CAP payments, earlier than ever before, and at a higher rate than previously offered, which has provided many businesses with the certainty and cash flow they need to make decisions and prepare for the future. This is real progress and one which I am determined to replicate in 2019.

Lead strategies

Likewise, the value of our food and drink sector is at record levels of £6 billion. I am determined to continue to support the sector grow sustainably and inclusively to achieve the Ambition 2030.

That is why, we will do more to realise the potential of the rural economy and key sectors such as food and drink. We will enhance and strengthen Scotland’s brand as a Good Food Nation at home and abroad, and by March 2019, we will publish a new Food and Drink 5-year Export Plan to bring forward measures to promote our produce in overseas markets.

I am determined to see the development of food tourism as an additional strand to food and farming businesses and want to expand the sectors covered by Food and Drink sectorial plans to include beef, sheep, dairy, and craft beer. Food and Drink is a real Scottish success story, and one I am sure will continue in 2019.


Finally, as we start the new year, I am also hoping for better weather. Our farmers have suffered persistently adverse weather over the last 12-18 months – whether that be drought or consistent wet periods – making their already difficult job, even harder. Some reliable and fair weather wouldn’t go amiss.

However, regardless of whether the weather gods are favourable in 2019, I am a firm believer that the success of our rural economy is down to the resilience of its people. And I will continue to work with them to make sure that 2019 is the most successful year yet for our rural communities and economy.