By Scottish Greens rural spokesperson, Mark Ruskell MSP

THE UPCOMING Holyrood elections are taking place in unprecedented times, with the devastating impacts of Covid and Brexit underpinning the Parliament’s work for many years to come. It’s vital that we act quickly to ensure Scotland’s farming sector not only survives but uses this opportunity to build back better, greener, and stronger.

The threat of future UK trade deals with the rest of the world remain real, undercutting standards and flooding the UK with cheap food imports. Green MSPs will fight to maintain food safety, animal welfare, and environmental standards, ensuring Scottish food does not become a bargaining chip in the same way our fishing sector has.

The Scottish government’s current ‘stability and simplicity’ strategy is about maintaining a now defunct version of the CAP for the years ahead. But everybody including the EU has moved on. The next Scottish Parliament needs to fast track delivery of a new agricultural support system, one in which climate change and biodiversity are no longer ‘nice to haves’, they are core objectives.

The Scottish Greens will push for emissions reductions and climate adaptation measures to be rewarded by the basic payments scheme, along with a substantial increase in the farm advisory service, to deliver the new whole-farm emissions accounting agreed in the recent Climate Act. This will be accompanied by a refreshed SRDP to support transformational change and additional on-farm nature enhancement work, such as organic conversion, agroforestry, regenerative agriculture, flood management and even compensation for accommodating beaver habitats.

A revised support scheme also needs to prioritise the diversification of farming businesses, helping to build a more resilient sector post Covid. Green MSPs will press for greater support for the horticulture sector and organic conversion, helping increase domestic fruit and veg production whilst creating on-farm jobs; more localised wool processing facilities to revive the Scottish textiles market; and the roll out of mobile abattoirs to support rural and island crofting businesses.

We have great opportunities to create local food economies if Scottish agriculture and the supply chain can be supported to diversify and supply more local needs. For example, through the recent budget deal between the Greens and the Scottish Government we prioritised the roll out of free school meals for all primary school children from next year. As part of this will be an extension of the ‘Food for Life’ programme, to specify increased levels of local produce in school meals and links to local farms.

Greens recognise that there is also an urgent need to improve the rights and support given to tenant farmers. Land is being traded like stocks and shares with rent seeking driving land prices up and taking away investment in productivity. A rent test needs to be introduced to ensure fair rents and the powers of the Tenant Farming Commissioner need to be increased including the power to impose penalties for code breaches.

The opportunities for new entrants in particular are poor with just 0.00004% of Scotland’s land being available last year, that is why we are proposing the creation of a National Farmland Trust to get more people back working on the land. A right to buy also needs to be developed in the next session of parliament, including where a landlord is in breach of their obligations.

The winds of change are blowing and the status quo for Scottish farming is no longer an option, but if we are smart, creative and play to our strengths then there will be major opportunities for farmers and growers in the years ahead.