NFU Scotland has stressed the importance of Scotland’s farmers and crofters to the Scottish economy and all of the downstream and ancillary rural industries that they underpin ahead of a parliamentary debate on Scotland’s rural economy and the Brexit negotiation on Tuesday 27 September.
Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) received the briefing ahead of the debate, which was led by the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, Fergus Ewing MSP.
Since the outcome of the referendum NFU Scotland has urged governments to give certainties to Scottish farmers and crofters in terms of access to markets in Europe and the rest of the world, freedom of movement, a future support system and provenance of Scottish produce following the UK’s eventual exit of the EU.
The Union has welcomed the parliamentary debate which solely focuses on the interests of the rural economy in the Brexit negotiation.
In its briefing, NFU Scotland reiterated the need to provide certainty to farmers and crofters on continuity of agricultural support as the country commences its exit from the European Union.
Whilst the recent announcement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer that Pillar 1 funding would be honoured up until 2020 was an important intervention, questions still remain about how this funding will be delivered to Scotland.
Clarification is also urgently needed on Pillar 2 spending, and NFU Scotland is calling upon Scottish Government to confirm the continuation of committed spend for the Less Favoured Area Support Scheme (LFASS) in particular – 70 per cent of which is funded by Scottish Government.
A future support system that properly recognises activity, develops effective advisory services and is better fitted to Scotland’s unique needs will be the real prize, however will have to be tailored to the future trade deals that are secured with Europe and with the rest of the world. This deal must be bespoke to the Scottish and UK situation, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach which will cost the industry or place a regulatory burden.
The Union’s briefing to MSPs also outlined the severe impact that the loss of non-UK labour could have on the agricultural industry, which employs up to 15,000 seasonal workers every year and hundreds more on a permanent basis. Immigration was at the heart of the referendum campaign and it is essential that a solution is found that allows the industry to get the workers it needs, whilst also sending a positive message to non-UK workers so that they feel wanted and valued.
The Brexit negotiation is an important opportunity to have a wide-ranging discussion about the future direction of the industry in Scotland and how its resilience and profitability can be secured for future generations, and NFUS hopes to continue this positive discussion with MSPs over the coming months.
Allan Bowie, President of NFU Scotland commented: “As custodians of the countryside, Scottish farmers and crofters are the mainstay of the rural economy. The Scottish public value the contribution that farmers and land managers make and the access they have to our beautiful, managed environment across the whole of Scotland.
“The referendum result brings into sharp focus the interests that agriculture has always held in the EU in relation to trade, support and the movement of labour. With nearly 40 per cent of the EU budget currently going towards agriculture, and tariff-free trade providing important markets for Scottish produce, the interests of Scotland’s farmers and crofters in the Brexit negotiation must be recognised.
“In 2013, the Scottish food and drink growth sector employed nearly 120,000, with the sector turning over £10.5 billion in the Scottish economy. Overseas exports of Scottish food and drink products are worth £5 billion. This would not be possible without the 65,000 people directly employed in the Scottish agriculture sector, who as primary producers are just the start of the food and drinks industry which is the largest manufacturing industry in Scotland.
“Whilst the value of the food and drink sector is at record levels, it is not right that farmers and crofters are not receiving the fair share of this good news story. The Brexit debate is an important opportunity for governments and all in the supply chain to look at what can be done better to share out risk and reward in order to secure the future sustainability of the industry.
“Central to all of this is certainty. It is welcome that the rural economy has been recognised as a priority for parliamentary debate at this relatively early stage, and NFUS urges all parties to find common ground on the major ‘red lines’ of future trade arrangements, agricultural support and labour so we can present a firm and united message to UK negotiators.”