A SIGH of relief rippled through Scottish agriculture last week, as the Scottish Government finally unveiled its next steps for directing future farming policy.
We now have a list of names of those who will be in an implementation board asked with delivering a package of support measures, which will enable Scotland to become a global leader in sustainable farming and food production.
Over the past 18 months, there have been five farmer-led groups, which have been feeding in their thoughts to the Scottish Government on what framework should replace the Common Agricultural Policy.
It was a huge task and one that the whole industry has been behind from the start, but the industry has been waiting for the Government to play catch up. Thankfully the starting pistol has been fired – right on the Government’s 100-day deadline – and we can eventually start formulating all these ideas into a workable plan.
But there is no denying that the agricultural industry has been ignored these past months and that the relationship between those in power and farming has been damaged in the process. To repair this relationship, there will need to be a renewed sense of co-operation moving forward and one which cannot be allowed to be disrupted by the SNP’s new deal with the Scottish Greens.
We can only hope that our shiny new faces in Government will get behind the suggestions of the farmer-led groups, whose reports will form the building blocks of the future of Scottish agriculture.
It was great to hear Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon promise that their hard work would not be side-lined and that she would be working “at pace” to implement the necessary changes to the sector.
That’s a good job too, as The National Farming Union of Scotland’s president, Martin Kennedy, will be co-chairing the panel alongside her and has already made it clear that if any roadblocks are put in the way of delivering what is best for agriculture, he won’t hesitate to walk away.
The first job for the new board – formally titled The Agriculture Reform Implementation Oversight Board – is to develop a preliminary package of funded measures to tackle greenhouse gas emissions, with a deadline to implement a National Test Programme by November’s COP26.
The test will focus primarily on the beef sector, with the hope that the tried and tested package will then be rolled out nationwide to the whole agricultural industry by spring 2022.
A word of caution to policy makers, any further whispers of livestock reduction must remain firmly that, whispers. What would be the point in Government patting itself on the back for reducing our carbon footprint via the route of reduced livestock numbers, to then have to increase its reliance on meat imports to satisfy domestic meat demand. There is no need for me to overstate the hypocrisy in this.
Demand for meat remains very strong, but the way in which we consume meat must be addressed. As we enter new realms of international trade, protecting domestic meat production must be prioritised, or else we make a mockery of our net zero ambitions.
If we are to embrace a new farming policy which rewards farmers for streamlining their processes to reduce GHG emissions, in return, members of the public have a duty to choose this meat, as part of our own carbon commitments.
The Scottish Government can help members of the public with these choices, by improving public procurement, so that the likes of our hospitals and our schools, are sourcing high quality, locally produced, low carbon emitting meat. This must also extend to our retail sector, which often evades scrutiny due to a lack of labelling – cheaper imported meat mustn’t be allowed to slip under the radar.
With COP26 approaching, farming once again will be under scrutiny for its carbon footprint, with the anti-meat agenda likely to be beating its drum and the media ready to lap up the juicy headlines it brings.
But we can’t allow the facts of Scotland’s farming story to be misconstrued in the mix and this responsibility falls on us all, not to get caught up in a net of sensationalist headlines and fake news.
This can also come down to education and knowing how to spot the facts from the fake news. From September 1, The Royal Highland Education Trust (RHET) – a fantastic charity which teaches school pupils about the farm to fork process – will be launching their “Year of Beef”, and will be on a mission to cut through the fake news surrounding meat production.
From September through to June, they will be sharing the facts behind Scottish beef production and encouraging teachers to share these with their pupils, through a range of resources which are being made freely available on their website.
During the pandemic, RHET hasn’t been able to go into schools or take kids on to farms to learn about farming, so many pupils have missed out on these opportunities.
If you’re not from farming, it can be very difficult to tackle the topic of meat production and many teachers don’t feel confident about opening a dialogue with their pupils, fearing challenging questions. But kids should be inquisitive and must be given the opportunity to hear the facts about where their food comes from and go on to make informed decisions on what they decide to eat.
We all have a duty, be that as teachers, policy makers or members of the public, to support Scottish farming play its part in building a more sustainable, greener future for all and in the countdown to COP26, Scottish agriculture can be proud that it has spearheaded a future farming policy which will allow farming to thrive and help protect our planet in the process.