AGRICULTURE is a long-term game, with current decisions and investments having an impact way beyond the expiry date of the current UK Government.

This was one of the key messages delivered by farming representatives at an evidence session in front of the Scottish Affairs Westminster committee, held at Oatridge college earlier this week.

In October 2018 the Scottish committee launched an inquiry into the future of Scottish agriculture post-Brexit and how best a UK future support system can meet Scottish needs.

At the outset, there was mutual agreement amongst the panel of witnesses that a common framework for future agricultural policy is needed at a UK level, in order to protect the internal market of the UK.

SRUC senior agricultural economist Steven Thomson explained: “It is essential that we have common rules regarding areas such as pesticide usage, plant protection products, vet medicines, animal welfare and the environment. If we didn’t have a common framework then we could see a scenario where one devolved administration has a legal competitive advantage over another which would cause problems."

He also made a point of explaining to the committee what would happen if subsidies for agriculture were to be entirely removed: “Our livestock sector is extremely reliant on agricultural support payments and these essentially underpin cheaper food in the country.

“It is either the tax payer’s responsibility to pay farmers through a support mechanism or consumer prices have to rise to reflect subsidy removal. Without farmers and land managers we cannot deliver the environmental outcomes that society wants,” he stressed.

Director of policy for NFU Scotland, Jonnie Hall, stressed that a future Scottish support system must look to embrace longer-term budgetary commitments: “We need to restore confidence back in the sector and one way of doing this is by seeking a multiannual budget for future agricultural support, which is how we currently operate as part of the EU,” he explained.

“Under the CAP everything is done on a seven-year basis and we are concerned that when funding comes back to the UK, which operates on annual budgets, it is going to be very difficult for farmers and crofters to make business plans. We need to see at least a five-year budget put in place that gives those guarantees to agricultural businesses if we want them to flourish,” Mr Hall stressed.

Chair of Quality Meat Scotland, Kate Rowell, made it clear that the UK immigration proposals – which look set to only offer visa schemes to those earning over £30,000 – will fuel labour shortages already being felt across the industry: “Our red meat sector is going to see huge repercussions from the immigration proposals, and this will be felt most prominently in abattoirs. We are already struggling to recruit staff to manage our through-put and we haven’t even left the EU yet. 95% of abattoir vets are from the EU and they don’t meet the £30,000 threshold,” she warned.

Chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee Pete Wishart MP, reflected on the evidence session: “We are very attracted to this idea of a five-year budgetary plan and we understand that for farming businesses to make plans on a yearly basis, this will have pitfalls when it comes to longer term planning for the sector.”