FUTURE AGRICULTURAL policy must address the cost of food production and encourage more young people into the industry, according to the findings of a recent survey undertaken by the political arm of the Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs.

SAYFC Agri and Rural Affairs conducted a survey of its members between January and February this year, to capture the views of young people living in rural Scotland ahead of the Holyrood elections.

The findings will help guide an action plan to be put to the next Scottish Government, to ensure young farmers’ views are taken in to account in future agricultural policy decisions.

Of the 208 members who took part in the survey, 72% felt that agriculture should be introduced as part of the national school curriculum and 66% felt apprenticeships were important in attracting young talent. The report highlighted that without the right opportunities and support for young people then it would be difficult to attract and retain talent in the industry.

Ever-increasing land prices can prevent young people from getting a foothold in farming. When asked what the biggest barrier to accessing land was, 35% said availability of land on the open market, 23% said availability of finance and 22% answered that there is a lack of incentives for established farmers to pass on land to the next generation.

Over half of the respondents had never heard of the Scottish Land Matching Service – which pairs up established farmers with new entrants to start a joint farming venture. The report suggests that this is something to be taken into consideration by the next Scottish Government to ensure more young people are made aware of this opportunity.

Looking ahead to the future of agricultural support, a clear majority believe that farming should be subsidised in the future (70%), but that the way in which funding is distributed needs to change. Respondents added that subsidies should be a reward for good practice not a right – with 94% agreeing that environmental objectives are important or very important to future farming support.

Members felt that the biggest threat to their career and business over the next five years was the cost of food production and ensuring a fair price for farmers, followed by availability of markets and access to land. Looking ahead to post-Brexit trade deals, over 90% of respondents agreed that imported foods should meet domestic animal welfare, food safety rules and standards, and that UK producers must not be undercut by imports.

With young farmers events heading online during the course of the pandemic, SAYFC members have become increasingly aware of the importance of connectivity, with 96% of respondents stating that connectivity was important or very important to them. However, 39% of members reported that the quality of their own internet connection was either not good or not very good at all.

Agri and Rural Affairs chair, Catherine Sloan, commented on the findings: “Scottish agriculture is currently at a crossroads as a new era of policy making begins following the UK's departure from the EU. As Scotland’s young farmers face the changes brought about by Brexit and the ever increasing economic, social and political demands on our industry, along with the ongoing challenges in relation to new entrants and young people gaining a foothold in farming, we need to ensure that their views are heard.

“It is important for the next Scottish Parliament and the next Scottish Government to ensure that the voice of the next generation is not only heard but also listened to,” she continued. “It is only in doing so that we will empower young people in Scottish agriculture and unlock the talent required to drive the industry forward and ensure its viability for years to come.”