SCOTLAND'S NEW rural affairs cabinet secretary, Mairi Gougeon, met with farmers at this week's Royal Highland Showcase, where she pledged to take forward the 'positivity and ambitious recommendations' of the farmer-led groups (FLGs) to help Scottish agriculture meet its carbon reduction targets.

Ms Gougeon said the 'first 100 days' pledges of the new SNP government were foremost in her planning, giving a time-scale up to mid-August, but she hoped that an implementation board would be set up prior to that, and tasked with disseminating the FLG reports and 'carry forward the recommendations and this will help shape our future policy'.

From this and also with input from other reports, like 'Farming for 1.5°, pilot schemes will be set up and used as a tester. She said she had met with the chairs of the various FLGs last week and was struck by their positivity.

"They were keen to work with me to take Scotland forward as a world leader in sustainable farming practices. With the COP26 Climate Change conference coming to Scotland in November, there's a really exciting opportunity here for us to showcase to a massive world stage the really great work we are doing to meet our climate change targets," she said.

"We want, of course, to crack on with our plans but this will be a pivotal moment for agriculture and we need to make sure that we use this opportunity to get it right."

When asked about any possibility of gene editing being allowed in Scotland, given that there is currently debate within the EU about using the technology, Ms Gougeon said she would be following that debate with interest, adding that ScotGov policy was to maintain alignment with European standards.

She also voiced frustration on behalf of the seed potato industry in Scotland, which had lost a lucrative export market almost overnight following Brexit, but hoped that any changes to the NI Protocols could encompass the dynamic alignment necessary to allow the resumption of that trade.

On re-wilding, while she did not quite go as far as her predecessor who famously said 'over my dead body' with regard to lynx, Ms Gougeon said that ScotGov had no plans for any further species re-introductions. She added that with the massive challenges facing land use policy, re-wilding would not be a priority for the five recently set up pilot Rural Land Use Partnerships.

She said she was aware of farmers' fears that there was a lack of balance in some areas with regard to sea eagle re-introduction: "With my role also including the islands, it's my intention to get out and about and meet with crofters and farmers and I'm sure that will come up as one of the topics we'll be discussing."

Speaking to The SF at Ingliston where the Royal Highland Showcase took place this week, she said that the show society's ambitious plans to livestream the best of Scottish agriculture had opened up the event to a new world-wide audience. The livestreaming on Monday's Showcase of cattle and sheep attracted an online audience of 35,000.