The digital era will offer Scottish farming huge opportunities to become even more efficient and effective.

While technologies in farming accelerate, the Government support systems that nurture the industry are also changing. Digital technology offers an ideal opportunity to ‘reboot’ and deliver targeted assistance capable of achieving the twin goals of quality production and hitting important climate change targets.

That’s the view of systems delivery specialist, Leidos, a global technology company which already supports the Scottish Government on IT programmes across a number of different disciplines. It also operates on a global scale supporting governments in US, Australia and UK.

As we move into a new era with Brexit and whether it will be ‘deal’ or ‘no-deal’ at our exit from the EU, it will be a period of huge change for Scottish agriculture, said Leidos’ Scottish Government Account Manager, Jillian Giles. “This presents a huge opportunity to transform the Scottish farming industry and further develop the rural economy, securing it for future generations.”

Freed from EU and Whitehall bureaucracy, Scotland will, largely, be going it alone in devising, implementing and then delivering agricultural support systems with clear policy aspirations, especially with the likes of Pillar 2-style funding. It gives Holyrood the mandate to create a holistic system that should benefit the huge range of diversity that makes Scottish agriculture and crofting special – and one which delivers tangible benefits to the countryside’s flora and fauna.

Ronan Laffan, Head of Advisory Services at IT consultancy, Version1, is working with Leidos to deliver specifically to the agricultural sector, having been a specialist involved in the support delivery system to Irish farmers. “Post-Brexit, Scotland can move to a really flexible range of options for farmers. Most schemes won’t simply have a one-size-fits-all broad brush, but can be tailor-made to suit each individual farm and its terrain. Digitisation will allow schemes to be more flexible and for a range of funding streams to come together, or not, depending on the individual business impact.

“It’s up to us to use data intelligently, to focus on an outcome from support that is continuous and to make sure that for farmers it’s easy to understand and administer,” he added.

This would involve clear signage and evaluation of what applying various strands of funding would do for individual farm units. These ‘Ready reckoners’ will allow the clarity necessary for individual applications.

That is a key feature that will allow farmers, crofters and landowners to make mature decisions on the direction of their business, according to Dave Freeman, Business Area Manager for Ricardo Energy and Environment, and a specialist in policy assessment, implementation and impact assessment.

“Although much of farm support will still have to be aligned to what’s happening in the EU, there will be great scope in Scotland for making policy and support that really will deliver bespoke packages. We have some farming leaders here that are very much ahead of the game, even on a world stage and it’s up to us, as IT specialists, to put in place the mechanisms which allow the rest of the industry to adapt and follow on.

“It is entirely deliverable, with the right stakeholders in place and steering policy. Get it right and we can guarantee that the likes of the beef industry, which is very important in Scotland, can move up a gear with regard to efficiency, especially when combined with precision farming techniques such as EID and ‘fitbits’ etc.

"Greater efficiency from high performance beef then leads directly to a lower impact on the environment and thus allows the industry to meet climate change targets. It really could be a win:win for agriculture, the environment and Government,” he said.

While Covid-19 has had a devastating effect on ‘life’ in general, the one major benefit that it has delivered has been to make everyone more tech savvy, claimed Jillian Giles. She added: “People have become more confident on-line, with shopping, communicating and services. This is a great platform for the next generation of farming support to build on.

“The focus must be on creating systems that are intuitive and customer focused, making it straightforward to understand and engage with. We are really lucky that there is a fantastic infrastructure of area offices which major on agricultural support around the country. These will be really important as we move into any new support era and allow delivery to be as painless as possible for all concerned.

“Scotland can take on board the experience from countries that have already successfully transitioned their farm payments systems, such as Ireland. By putting collaboration at the heart of the strategy, Ireland created a system that works well for all stakeholders.”

“There’s no denying that Brexit, climate change and the political landscapes are changing, but properly targeted, Scotland can deliver payment schemes that will work for rural areas in improving efficiency and at the same time deliver environmental benefit,” she argued.