Farmers in Scotland have been given slightly more detail of how the government intends to take the agricultural sector on the journey to becoming a global leader in sustainable and regenerative agriculture.
The Scottish Government has published what it calls ‘the next step’ in delivering its future agricultural support regime which will apply from 2025.
It has offered some more information about the National Test Programme, first announced last year, which will start to be rolled out this Spring.
Track One of the programme will focus on encouraging farms to improve their knowledge of current environmental performance and efficiency.
Support will be provided to incentivise businesses to adopt measures that will create a baseline of information and understanding in sustainable agriculture. This is likely to involve a soil testing programme, carbon or biodiversity audits and animal health and welfare plans.
This part of the programme will be open to all farmers, crofters and land managers, so people can gain an understanding of their own baseline at an individual farm level.
Details of Track Two of the programme are still pretty vague, but the government says it will focus on designing and testing tools so farmers are rewarded for the climate and biodiversity outcomes they deliver.
Track Two will only be open to those farmers who are recruited to take part and they will be asked to test methods for recording the benefits to climate and nature they deliver. Once tested these tools can be rolled out to everyone.
The test programme will start this year, with the intention being to implement a phased approach to rolling out measures focused around biodiversity gain and low emissions production which all applicants of current farm support payments will need to abide by.
The proposal is to shift to a position where by 2025 at least half of all payments within current schemes are conditional on farmers meeting the new measures set out by the government. This is being referred to as farmers needing to meet ‘enhanced conditionality’.
As part of its vision for the future, the government has also said it wants to encourage more farmers to produce food organically and accelerate a reduction in the rise of agrochemicals.
It says it remains committed to supporting active farming and active food production, but while cutting emissions and seeking biodiversity gain.
The government is planning to start the consultation process on an Agricultural Bill in Summer 2022, with a view to having the legislation in place for implementation from 2026.
On the face of it, a plan for food production, reducing food miles, allied to greater environmental protection is a good thing. The tone of the announcement is more supportive of agriculture than might have been expected, which may be due to the presence of the NFUS on the Oversight group.
However, the devil will be in the detail. A lot of the aims seem to be a wish list with little thought as to how they will be achieved in practice – for example the aim to reduce agrochemical use and turn more farmers organic. It may be that not all policy makers realise that regenerative agriculture is very dependent on glyphosate. The question of what funding the government will put behind the new policy also remains unanswered.
If you would like to talk about any aspect of how changes in agricultural policy might affect your farming business, contact Mary Munro, head of farming in Scotland.