Skip to main content

09/02/18 14:40

NFUS AGM 2018 – Cabinet Secretary speech

Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing speech at NFUS AGM 2018

Thank you for that introduction and for the invitation to address you.

Thank you for wonderful dinner last night.

Always a pleasure to sit down to a meal of good Scottish fare, in convivial company.

Menu showed the diversity of the food produced in Scotland and how many food businesses rely on ingredients from Scottish farming.

Privilege of my job is that I travel the country visiting farms, crofts and rural businesses and communities.

We are living in uncertain times. On my visits in the last year that has been very clear.

But you are doing what you have always done best. Rising to the challenge.

One challenge has been weather.

I listened to what you told me a year ago.

Took immediate steps, on the ewe hogg scheme and on slurry management.

Also took action to ensure we are better prepared in the future,

Set up the Weather  Panel with industry – to look at short and long term resilience.

That includes monitoring the emerging situation, should there be feed shortages in some areas at the end of winter.

Panel has met twice. It identified a need for advice on feed budgeting - now in place through RSABI and Farm Advisory Service.

I can quote many such examples of actions we’ve taken, to try and help the industry – and believe me I will.

But I want to focus on something we’ve heard too little about recently.

The primary role of agriculture – producing food.

It’s not the only role. But it’s the central and fundamental role.  What farming was invented for.

So any future policy or support regime – which is society’s way of recognising what it values in an industry – must have food production at its core.

In the current debate on post-Brexit policy, many people are rallying to the cause of more public value in return for public money.

My own Agriculture Champions said that, as have National Council of Rural Advisers.

And I agree.

Ensuring Scotland retains capacity to produce food is in the public interest.

Must continue to support and incentivise high quality, sustainable food production.

Must recognise the importance of public investment in food production.

So food production is not in contradiction with the debate about public value. It’s at the heart.

Primary production is the root of the food supply chain.

As it happens, farming conditions in Scotland are such that we’re best at quality, not quantity.   Therefore must protect provenance and quality – priorities for this government in the EU negotiations.

We are helping companies to grow markets here in Scotland, particularly in public sector. Recently visited Nether Robertland Primary School in East Ayrshire where Council have developed local contracts for cheese, free range eggs and organic fruit and veg.

Also supporting businesses to sell more across the UK. Scotland Food and Drink’s new UK Market strategy, published this summer, will map a path for this.

And continuing to help get more product to international markets. Network of in-market specialists based in 11 cities across the world – a dedicated Scottish sales team.

Food and drink exports now worth £5.5 billion. When new export figures for 2017 are published later today, I expect them to show that growth has continued.  

But you have not received enough benefit from food and drink sector growth, even though you provide the products or the ingredients for manufactured products.

Supply chain will be a key focus of the food and drink industry strategy. Food and drink sector must be underpinned by a sustainable and productive farming sector.

Part of the answer may be more farmers forming into co-operatives to deliver commercial strength.

Important role of SAOS. Arguing for co-ops’ right to negotiate is the right way forward.

Welcome that Scott Walker will be co-chairing the new industry-wide Supply Chain group with James Graham of SAOS.

Just as food production has always been farming’s central role, it has never been its only one.

Farmers have always had twin roles, producing food while being custodians of our countryside.

Helping to sculpt and shape Scotland’s landscape through generations - seeding, ploughing, planting, improving land and soil.

Our landscape is not breathtaking thanks to nature alone, or by accident. It’s the result of centuries of work by generations of farmers and crofters.

If we stop investing in practical support for farmers, how then do we ensure land is fenced, dyked or hedged, trees are planted and grown, soil is limed and drained?

No doubt we can and should do more – to improve soil and water quality, and to contribute to climate change targets, for instance.

But we can build on what is already happening:

  • Through Farming Advisory Service and Beef Efficiency Scheme, over 1,500 carbon audits have been booked, of which over 1,100 have been undertaken.
  • Work underway to eradicate BVD – reducing emissions per kilo and improving profits.
  • Since AECS was launched, we have funded 2,295 projects worth £146 million.

So our future approach will be built on both supporting food production and recognising farmers’ role as custodians of the countryside.

Understand that you want to see what the future outside of CAP looks like. Some of you are frustrated I have yet to set out new policy in detail.

But my priorities must be to secure the powers and funding we need to create and support a policy which works – both of which remain uncertain.

This week Scottish Government was criticised for not having already modelled a new payments system.

Any financial modelling must have financial figures.  Any business plan needs a clearly set out budget.

Post Brexit there are no figures, no clarity, no budget.

Also, would be unhelpful for government to design future policy in a vacuum.

We are not the experts here. You are.

Which is why NFUS’s work to develop a programme for change, with meetings all around the country, has been so useful.

And why I welcome the discussion paper the four agricultural champions produced.

Champions will produce their final recommendations this Spring.

Our decisions on future policy will be informed by:

  • Champions
  • NFUS’s proposals for change
  • report of the Griggs group on greening
  • National Council of Rural Advisors
  • other contributions.

As your Cabinet Secretary, I will continue to work with you, NFUS and other stakeholder organisations, to identify priorities, find solutions and address challenges. As I have since the last AGM.

‘What has Scottish Government ever done for me?’ you may ask. Well, in the last year or so:

  • Two hill farming summits.
  • Set up weather panel and dealt with slurry issues and ewe scheme, as mentioned.
  • With NFU and cross-party support, wrung a review of convergence funding from UK government after 4 years of dither.
  • Funded Ringlink to enable their great work to carry on.
  • Worked flat out to solve remaining CAP IT issues and made good progress.
  • Published the CAP Stabilisation Plan
  • Paid out £367 million in loans for 2016 LFASS and 2017 BPS, and £44 million for 2016 beef and sheep schemes.
  • Approved hundreds of new SRDP contracts bringing total to £640m in new commitments since 2015.
  • Thanks to the European Commission changing its mind, announced that 2018 LFASS will be at 100%.
  • Improved delivery of Beef Efficiency Scheme, which covers 31% of breeding herd.
  • Made Dairy Aid Payments, totalling £2m.
  • Gave funding to RSABI to support farmers facing hardship.
  • Fought unstintingly for Scotland to have full powers over farming fishing and forestry.
  • And for the funding, to match EU levels, as promised.
  • Got DEFRA/Devoled Administrations Ministerial meetings re-established
  • Appointed agriculture champions and NCRA, who produced interim reports.
  • Supporting the fruit and veg leadership group to develop a growth plan. Will do likewise for other sectors such as poultry, pigs, and dairy.
  • Launched Scotland’s first Plant Health Strategy.
  • Appointed Chief Plant Health Officer.
  • Launched Plant Health Centre of Expertise last week when visiting SASA – whose science underpins seed potato exports.
  • Fought your corner for the retention of glyphosate
  • Secured BSE negligible risk status for Scotland.
  • Able to reduce herds exposed to BVD from 40% to 10%.
  • Took a pragmatic approach to the control of Avian Influenza.
  • Successfully introduced Scotmoves, so we know whereabouts of half a million cattle.
  • Supported Rural Mental Health campaign.
  • Supported Farming with Dyslexia campaign.
  • Implemented short-term recommendations of Professor Griggs’ CAP Greening Review Group, improving greening as far as possible under current rules.
  • Published Griggs group’s final report and long-term recommendations.
  • Launched a revamped Farm Advisory Service.
  • Established Women in Agriculture Taskforce.
  • Supported Sheep and Trees initiative.
  • Made progress on implementing the agricultural holdings provisions of 2016 Land Reform Act.
  • Completed review of Small Landholders Act.
  • Appointed Tenant Farming Commissioner.
  • Provided additional funds for the Croft House Grant Scheme.
  • Held successful crofting elections, resulting in the appointment of a new Convenor.
  • Established Farming Opportunities for New Entrants programme.
  • Provided start-up grants of over £9.5m to 175 new entrants.
  • Allocated £65 million through Food Processing Marketing & Cooperation Grant Scheme, to over 220 projects.
  • £3 million to support Connect Local, the advisory service for micro businesses.
  • Continued support to SAOS - £250,000 per annum.
  • Continued work with retailers - Sales of Scottish produce within the UK market up 37% to now £4.6 billion.
  • Continued funding of the dairy growth board (chaired by Paul Grant), helping dairy producers find new markets.
  • Promoted Scottish produce in public sector procurement. 41% increase in Scottish produce bought through public sector contracts – including over £1 million spent on QMS farm assured meat (was nil in 2013).
  • Investing £3.5 million to support the delivery of the Scottish Export Plan, led by SDI.
  • £10 million investment to support delivery of the Ambition 2030 strategy.
  • £1m investment in Market Driven Supply Chain programme. First project delivered £20m of additional sales.
  • Showcasing Scotland events – including national event at Gleneagles attended by 150 UK and international buyers
  • Among other things.

So we haven’t been sitting on our hands.

And I have two more announcements today.

Earlier I stressed that food production will be at the centre of my approach.  But that does not mean returning to policies of the past.

Productivity is crucial too. Here Scotland – and most of Europe – has been lagging behind.

Both the champions and NFUS have recognised this.

Innovation is key - new technologies, new business models, and new forms of cooperation.

Important for the wider rural economy as well as farming itself.

We already help farms and food businesses, through the Farm Advisory Service, Ricardo Consulting and the enterprise agencies.

But – as shown by the success of co-operatives, producer organisations and the monitor farm programme - people learn best from each other.

So I am today announcing the launch of a new Rural Innovation Support Service.

This will accelerate uptake of innovation and technology in the sector, by providing brokerage to groups of farmers, foresters and crofters - as the first step to forming crucial and beneficial partnerships.

Will be delivered by a partnership of agencies, to ensure it can connect with everyone in the food and drink and forestry supply chains.

Second announcement relates to CAP payments.

Still not sorted but we are getting there.  Determined to have a system that puts your needs, as the customer, at its heart.

Last autumn I set out government’s stabilisation plan for farm payments, published a Schedule of Key Dates.

So far have made good progress - including substantial progress on Pillar 2 payments, and meeting LFASS 2016 final payments target around 2 months early.

On track for the 2018 Single Application Form. Aim is to move to all applications for 2018 being completed online. 

EC rules for this CAP require it. But also, it is more efficient and cost-effective – for us and for you.

System automatically checks what you type in.   For important data like the areas of fields, errors should be spotted straight away so you can correct them.

If not confident about moving online or do not yet have broadband, there is help in RPID area offices.

2017 loan scheme shows that we can and do get things right.

It was a success.

Got more money out earlier than ever before.

On track to complete basic and greening payments by end of the payment period.

And have made good progress processing 2017 LFASS claims. Expect to make the majority of LFASS 2017 payments earlier than we did for 2015 or 2016.

But not in a position to guarantee that most LFASS customers would receive payments in April or May, when I want them to. 

Therefore I am confirming today that we will shortly launch an LFASS 2017 loan scheme.

It will be at 90%, aiming for first loan payments in April. Encourage everyone eligible to apply.

Elephant in the room, however.

Nineteen months since the referendum and only thirteen months until exit date - what do we know about what the future holds for farming and crofting?

Precious little. Even less of it good.

Still no transfer of the already devolved powers over agriculture and food.

Clear as mud what is going to happen to the financial support system.

Undertakings by UK Government to date are good so far as they go. But do not go nearly far enough.

In January, after Michael Gove’s speech in Oxford, it was reported that CAP payments were guaranteed until 2024.

But I read the speech, that is not what he said.

Treasury had already guaranteed Pillar 2 contracts signed before Brexit.

And committed to maintain the budget for ‘farm support’ until end of the UK Government in 2022 (if it survives that long).

Beyond that, all they’ve said is there will be a consultation on post Brexit funding.

So, there is still uncertainty for Pillar 2 contracts entered into after Brexit, such as for AECS, organic farming or forestry.

Uncertainty on whether UK government thinks some parts of Pillar 2 count as ‘farm support’ - food processing, LEADER, forestry.

And beyond mid-2022 – in other words, beyond 2021 SAF – no guaranteed funding even for Pillar 1 and LFASS.

Make no apology for pressing UK Ministers to keep promises made during referendum campaign. 

Certainty is also required on timescale.

I always said we need a long transition period, longer than to 2022.

Long enough to get the change right, for it to be well thought out and well planned.

I will continue to work alongside the NFUS and others to seek clarity, certainty, stability and security on future funding.

Already consensus is emerging on what should underpin future policy.

This is reflected in government thinking, as set out in the Programme for Government.

So I will conclude by setting out some thoughts on what we will do in the future – and what we will not do.

Let me start with this.

I cannot and will not support anything which creates further challenge or difficulty for our farming sector or gets in the way of you getting on with your business.

So I will not support any attempt to introduce new predatory species such as the lynx to Scotland.

Will press Michael Gove to do likewise.

Introducing such species risks cruelty and harm to farm animals, native wild birds and animals, even domestic pets.

UK government seems to think productive, sustainable farming means choosing a single purpose – either environmental benefit or producing food.

This binary choice fundamentally misunderstands the twin roles of farming.

I repeat - this Scottish government will seek to provide support which enables farming to continue doing both.

And fulfil its wider social and economic role in rural communities.

So here is something else we will not do – and will continue to challenge UK Ministers on.

Current EU standards and regulations protect us - through animal, plant and chemical health measures - and enable our produce to be traded all around the world.

I have no wish to dismantle these and put Scottish agriculture at a disadvantage internationally.

UK Government has committed to “taking early steps to control the export of live farm animals for slaughter”.

Restrictions on live animal transport could substantially harm our livestock sector.

So let me be absolutely clear.

This is one UK wide framework we will not be participating in.

We will not agree to anything which prevents the live transport of livestock in, around and out of Scotland, but will remain committed to the welfare of all animals during transport by adhering to the current rigorous standards which apply.

Losing our current ability to trade is one of the biggest risks of Brexit.

But also risk to free movement of people.

National Council of Rural Advisors told us the primary priority for Scottish Government in the EU negotiations should be people.

And, whilst powers, funding, standards and trade all matter, they are right.

Rural communities and your businesses need people to thrive.

Everyone knows this government believes Scotland’s interests would be best served by being within the EU.

If that is not possible, we are clear - and all the analysis shows - that staying in the Single Market is the least worst alternative for Scotland.

Impact of the loss of freedom of movement cannot be over-stated.

EU nationals contribute to success in dairy, fruit growing and picking, abattoirs, haulage, food processing and as vets.

By settling in communities, they help keep pubs, post offices and schools open.

So this government makes no apology for continuing to insist that EU nationals are welcome here. I and my Cabinet colleagues will do all that we can to make that case.

Must also attract more people from Scotland and rest of the UK into farming .

Our scheme to support new and young entrants continues to attract huge interest. Have already altered it to maximise the benefit, and will not hesitate to do so again.

Was delighted to see the Young Farmers put the funding I provided in 2016 to good use - with videos encouraging young people to think about a career in farming.

Encouraging more women into farming is vital. As one of our researchers said – “‘why would you want to play a game with half of your best players on the bench?’

I am co-chairing the Women in Agriculture taskforce with Joyce Campbell.

NFUS is fully involved, represented by Andrew as President. Know you are also working to encourage more women to get involved at local level.

Taskforce will issue its first report later this year.

Wherever I go and whomsoever I meet, I am struck by the extent of knowledge, skills, expertise and potential we have in Scotland.

Must nurture our talent and keep on investing in it, to encourage improved productivity, sustainability and ultimately profitability.

Undoubtedly a strong economic argument for keeping people in farming and related businesses.

But there is a more fundamental, social argument too.

Since EU referendum, I have worked hard to champion the interests of all farming sectors. But have paid particular attention to hill and upland farmers.

As promised at last year’s AGM, I hosted two hill farming summits, Lanark and Dingwall.

Listened carefully, and have taken on board the threats to hill farmers’ viability. Will work to address these.

At every opportunity, I have pressed UK Ministers for clarity over future LFASS funding.

The now-departed Deputy Prime Minister complained that Scottish Government wished to go to war on payments for sheep farmers - I took that as a back handed compliment.

My message has been heard. I am ramming home the arguments (pardon the pun), at every opportunity.

And this is why.

Because in Scotland we must keep people on our land.

This government will not countenance the sort of approach UK Government is setting out for farming policy in England post-Brexit.

We will not empty our hills and our valleys, and see land and communities abandoned or rewilded en masse.

Alongside other traditional rural sectors, farming and crofting play a crucial role in retaining population in remote areas.

We want that to continue.

Whatever the future holds, we want people to stay living and working in rural Scotland, producing high quality food while protecting and enhancing our natural assets and our landscape.

That is our purpose now and in the future.

My role is simple. I will do my best to ensure you get the right support at the right time in the right way.

My job is to “get in aboot it” to help you “get on with it” and then “get out of the way”.

I will continue to champion farming and crofting’s needs and interests at every opportunity and to every audience.

And it will be my privilege to do so.

[Ends]