The Scottish public have given their backing to a future agriculture support model which rewards farmers for safeguarding the natural environment whilst providing good quality, high welfare food production.

The study was commissioned by the Scottish Government to gather public opinion towards the environment, agriculture and rural development and what a future policy to replace the common agricultural policy should entail.

In keeping with policy thinking south of the border, Scottish public attitudes favour a move towards an integrated farming approach, with future funding support to reward improved animal welfare and environmental practice alongside high quality food production.

Using a range of evidence gathering techniques, including a national online survey of 2,345 Scottish adults - seven stand out areas have been identified which the public deem important in shaping future agricultural policy in Scotland.

Ensuring high quality food production was revealed to be a top priority with 68% of the public aware that costs will increase as a consequence of Brexit. There was recognition from the public that the agriculture sector has a social responsibility to protect animal welfare with 39% of respondents citing improving animal welfare standards as an important priority for the future funding of agriculture policy.

The public would also like to see support for advancing environmental protection and maintaining healthy and productive land as part of future agri-policy. Evidence gathered through a series of citizen’s forums found that the public believe farming could do more to protect the environment, however, 90% agreed that without a wide variety of plants and animals - which in turn requires farmers as custodians - that the environment would worsen.

There was clear demand for increased financial support and service provision in rural areas with a focus on improving public transport links, improving broadband connectivity and ensuring there are more jobs and opportunities for those who live in rural areas.

Echoing the thoughts of the wider agricultural sector, there was acknowledgement for the need to raise the profile of the sector and improve the government portfolio within agriculture in terms of public spending.

Lastly, the public supports a reallocation of financial support away from the current area-based CAP model towards an increased focus on environmental protection, with 55% of respondents preferring a policy which rewards farmers for supporting the environment.

This important study addresses the recommendation put forward by cabinet secretary Fergus Ewing’s agricultural champions, that "policies must be guided by real evidence about what the public values," in the hope that future agricultural policy will complement public opinion.

Agricultural champion Marion MacCormick commented on the findings: “The research gives a voice to a broad section of the Scottish public, and provides a credible volume of views which should help guide and validate the move to a more cohesive and integrated strategy for agriculture, land use and the rural sector, if so desired by the Scottish Government.

"The agricultural champions were also heartened to hear a strong and decisive voice emerging in the research from the younger participants, as the feedback does illustrate how current policies may need to adapt to the challenges and preoccupations of this generation,” she continued. “Our recommendation of an Origin Blue type policy does encompass this, local sourcing, and the image the Scottish agricultural sector might want to project in the future," she urged.