A leading Perthshire producer has called on fellow farmers to forego their individual shares of next year’s allocation of EU convergence funds, and agree to invest the money in innovation, research and new technologies that give long-term benefits to the industry.
Aberfeldy farmer and Moredun Foundation chairman Ian Duncan Miller told an NFU Scotland (NFUS) roadshow in Perth that the demeaning spectacle of farmers arguing over where the funds should be spent could be avoided next year if the windfall cash was invested in measures that would drive change in their businesses.
“This year’s share of the £160 million has been allocated and I’ll be as grateful as anyone, but it’s not going to be a game-changer for any of us,” he said.
“It might be a one-off shot-in-the-arm to buy a second-hand pick-up or a holiday, and if we lost out on that, sure it would be a disappointment, but this different approach would lead to new technology, science, understanding and knowledge that would give a dividend to all farmers in Scotland.”
Mr Duncan Miller added that the £51.4m of extra funding for Scottish agriculture recommended by Lord Bew’s report, and which is likely to be allocated in 2021 and 2022, should go into the same pot.
“Potentially it could be £100m into a fund which could sponsor a lot of innovation. I’m not just talking about more money for the Moredun but research across the industry, including the James Hutton Institute on arable crops and the environment, and find new ways of doing things with soils and diseases.
“There’s an opportunity here for the Scottish Government and industry to use this money in a totally different way to what is being proposed.”
He later said he believed farmers would back such a plan. But union vice-president Martin Kennedy said the idea would be “challenging” for members.
“The NFUS board is behind us doing something different with the Bew £51.4m, by targeting it at technology and data capture and finding ways of driving individual businesses forward,” he said
“But if we were to agree to that with the £160m, we’d have a huge challenge with members and we’re a membership organisation.”
The union’s policy director, Jonny Hall, pointed out that a significant proportion of the support allocated to Scottish agriculture should in future be geared towards investment in individual businesses, in equipment, soils, and embracing technology.
“Otherwise all we’re doing is using the annual payment as working capital to pay off bills to continue doing the same things we’ve always done, and then need more of it to pay more bills as the gap between what we do widens because of the costs we face,” he said.
“All it has done for many years is potentially plug the gap between market returns and costs and that’s getting harder and harder to do.
“So we need a game-changer, and a focus on spending it in a different way.”
Mr Duncan Miller later pointed out that the Moredun’s budget has seen cuts in Scottish Government-sponsored science every year in the last 13 years.
He added: “That is not setting us up well as an industry for the future.”