By Scottish Labour rural spokesperson, Rhoda Grant MSP

The whole of Scotland owes a debt of gratitude to our agricultural sector and the communities which support it that have kept us fed and kept the countryside open for us to enjoy during lockdown.

This needs to be acknowledged with greater recognition of this work.

We know that agriculture is a long term commitment. Farming is measured by generations and not electoral terms. Scottish Labour understands the need for financial stability and the ability to plan ahead. We will maintain current levels of funding until 2024 and from then we will put in place a new scheme that gives farmers and crofters certainty. The new financial support must recognise farmer’s knowledge, recognising their experience in reducing emissions and protecting Scotland’s landscape and work towards sustainable farming practices. We believe that the new agricultural support package offers a valuable opportunity to deliver on environmental commitments, and incentivise actions that deliver food production, climate and biodiversity outcomes in complementary fashion. Scottish Labour will support the agricultural community to make the changes necessary to deal with the climate emergency and help take advantage of the opportunities created.

We commit to retaining the Less Favoured Areas Support Scheme (LFASS) from 2021 onwards, and we support the full re-instatement of 2020 payments back to 2018 levels. Our new scheme will also recognise and compensate for natural disadvantage. We will also ensure that any shortfall in the budget for this Pillar 2 scheme is not negated by reductions in pillar one support.

Scottish Labour will invest in coastal protections, better flood management, full-fibre broadband, and 4G/5G extensions that will underpin rural small businesses' future success. Our plans will help address the low wages in many rural communities, and we will retain and strengthen the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board. Our Green New Deal will invest in housing, renewable energy and tackle fuel poverty. We will ensure that rural areas and small business get their fair share of public procurement and will support measures to tackle unfair delivery charges.

Food production is not the only way in which rural Scotland kept the rest of the country going during the pandemic and through lockdown. The collapse of the international tourism industry meant more and more people escaped to the countryside for exercise and for holidays. While we agree this was a positive development for our rural tourism sector, we recognise that everyone has responsibility to leave the countryside safe and clean. We will support reviewing and strengthening the Scottish Outdoor Access Code to ensure that thoughtless and damaging practices like fly tipping, dirty camping and livestock worrying are forcefully discouraged.

More and more people are realising that Scotland’s countryside is a great place to live and work. We want to strengthen job opportunities for young people and new entrants into the agricultural sector, including recognising tenant farming as an entry route into farm ownership. We understand the utmost importance of broadband and connectivity to farmers in accessing financial support and marketing their produce. We believe it is well past time everyone in Scotland had access to superfast broadband. We are also committed to keeping and strengthening the role of the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board to ensure agricultural workers are entitled to fair terms and conditions.

This is a tumultuous time for Scottish agriculture. Scottish Labour want to work in partnership with farmers, making sure that their voices are heard in Holyrood, that rural policy is made with those people who are closest to, and best placed to make decisions about, the countryside.