Scottish farming leaders say the agricultural industry is in “pole position” to lead the country’s economic recovery – but it needs to be pump primed with incentives and financial support.
Unveiling his union’s manifesto ahead of the Scottish Parliament elections, new NFU Scotland (NFUS) president, Martin Kennedy acknowledged the pressures on government budgets but insisted that investment in agriculture would create economic and environmental returns for Scotland as a whole.
He said: This isn’t just about the profitability of individual farms and crofts, this is about the economic and environmental recovery of a country that’s struggling right now.
“Farmers and crofters are ready to play their part but, for the last five years, positive progress on rural policy in Scotland has been stymied by the Brexit debate.
“Moving out of the shadow of Brexit and the Common Agricultural Policy, Scottish agriculture will look to the new Scottish Government to work with the sector to deliver a new agricultural policy for Scotland that will deliver our key ambitions.”
However, if that new Scottish Government is led by the SNP, another member of the union’s new top team, vice-president, Andrew Connon, indicated a potential collision course over future land reform policy.
Mr Connon said: “The last couple of decades of land reform have brought fear, a lack of trust, and a lack of confidence between landlords and tenants. It has stifled progress and restricted the amount of let land on the market.
“NFUS strongly believes recent legislation on land reform and agricultural holdings should be allowed to bed in before opening up the debate further.”
He went on to appeal for support for share and contact farming, the expansion of the starter farm project, as well as incentive packages for retiring farmers – including the option to build a retirement house on farmland.
Mr Kennedy called on the next Scottish Government to work collaboratively with UK Ministers on favourable trade deals, and to prioritise standards of production in these deals.
He added: “We also must ensure the integrity of the UK’s internal market is upheld, as this is critical to Scotland’s agri-food interests.
“It is apparent to all that we are entering a transformational time for Scottish agriculture where we will shoulder more responsibility than ever before. The industry’s willingness and ambition to adapt and change must be matched by a political agenda that is positive, ambitious and supportive.
“The next Scottish Parliament and Government must enable and ensure farmers and crofters can deliver Scotland’s needs.”