LEAVING the EU will allow Scotland to shape new domestic agricultural policies to better suit its farmers.
That was the message from Scottish Secretary Alister Jack, as he virtually addressed the annual Scottish Land and Estates conference.
Highlighting the UK Global Tariff, which will replace the EU’s Common External Tariff on January 1, 2021, Mr Jack said: “Households will see the cost of thousands of everyday products reduced as we cut red tape.
“As daunting as the challenges posed by Covid are, we must not let the virus deflect us from maximising the very real opportunities which lie ahead of us outside of the EU.”
He repeatedly assured landowners that post-Brexit trade deals will not damage food, animal welfare and environmental standards, and highlighted the billions of pounds of support provided by the UK Government to Scottish businesses during the Covid-19 pandemic, saying that differences with the SNP administration had been exaggerated.
Arguing that in reality they are ‘relatively minor’, Mr Jack explained that the two governments will continue to work together: “They have the same goal of saving lives and minimising the social and economic damage caused by the virus.”
Also speaking, chairman of Scottish Land and Estates, Mark Tennant, said serious choices of priorities lie ahead both for government and food producers as the clock ticks towards the EU trade deal deadline in January. He added that it was now incumbent on farming businesses and land managers to ‘go further and go faster’ in their contributions to combating carbon emissions.
Mr Tennant explained: “Rural businesses are not immune from the difficulties of 2020. Indeed, our rural economies have most to fear through the uncertainty of Brexit and the worries of future export tariffs and substandard food imports – and that’s without considering the seismic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Yet, as hard as these challenges are, we must not take our focus away from climate change – and it is incumbent on farmers, land managers and estates to continue to help Scotland meet its targets in this area.
“As we transition from the Common Agricultural Policy, there is an opportunity to enact a huge change in how we deliver from our land. Quality food production and carbon sequestration in Scotland’s uplands are not diametrically opposed – we can have the best of both worlds.
“Every stakeholder needs to go further and go faster – we cannot continue to wait,” said Mr Tennant. “We need a fresh, ambitious support package to replace the CAP after 2024 that will deliver for food, biodiversity and the environment and we need to start the process of transitioning towards that now. That involves the sharing of skills, data and science to maximise our efficiency. Productivity and efficiency go hand in hand and are the surest way to achieving profitability.”
SLaE also welcomed recent political developments including the planned statutory footing for the Trade and Agriculture Commission as well as the Farming for 1.5 report – which was published on Monday – as important steps in the future of Scottish farming and land management.
SLaE chief executive, Sarah Jane Laing, said: “We published our #Route2050 blueprint last year which mapped out the need for a Land Use Strategy that integrates food, energy, carbon sequestration, timber, water management and natural capital outcomes.
“The Farming for 1.5 report is a welcome publication which demonstrates a clear pathway for the agriculture sector to drive down emissions whilst retaining productivity, quality and boosting biodiversity,” she said.
“More than ever, the public wants to consume high quality local produce that is produced in an ethically and environmentally friendly way. Scottish and British farming should always have the edge over cheaper, foreign imports as a result of this consumer demand but we are pleased the UK Government has taken steps to address the concerns about substandard food. The question now for Scottish farming is how it adds further strings to its environmental bow. We as land managers need to go further and we also need the knowledge exchange tools provided by government to help.”