Agriculture must not be bargaining chip say NFUS

NFU Scotland has used a meeting with Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell MP, to stress the importance of providing as much clarity and certainty to the farming and crofting sector as preparations for the Brexit negotiations get underway.

The Union welcomed the opportunity to engage in early discussions with Mr Mundell at East Lothian Produce, Haddington, courtesy of the McCullagh and Logan families today (Wednesday 17 August). East Lothian Produce is a dynamic growing and packing business producing Brussels sprouts, cabbage, parsnips and potatoes.

Top of the agenda at the meeting was the UK Government’s commitment to agricultural funding up to 2020, and how its distribution will meet the requirements of Scotland’s patchwork farming industry. As well as reiterating the ten commitments that it wishes the UK Government to take forward for agriculture following the Brexit vote, the Union also addressed Country of Origin Labelling and labour issues.

As Scotland’s voice within the UK Cabinet, the Union urged Mr Mundell to bring together all four constituent governments to drive a positive and constructive agenda.

Allan Bowie, President of NFU Scotland commented: “In this highly politically-charged debate, it is vital that agriculture does not become the bargaining chip as new trade deals are sought and our future relationship with Europe is negotiated.

“Farming and crofting is the bedrock of the UK’s food and drink industry - the biggest manufacturing sector that we have.

“Getting the future agricultural policy right affects more than just farmers and crofters. It will be critical if we are to maintain and grow the hundreds of thousands of jobs in food and drink manufacturing.

“UK Government will take the lead in forthcoming Brexit negotiations, but NFUS will maintain regular dialogue with other key stakeholders as part of its wide engagement strategy including Scottish Government, politicians, processors and retailers.

“NFU Scotland has set out the key priorities, as agreed with the other UK farming unions, that seek to secure the best possible deal on future investment, trade, access to labour and agricultural support. It’s vital early work gets underway now, kick-started by government but with participation from the whole supply chain to put agriculture on a strong footing in negotiations.

“Whilst the UK Treasury’s announcement last week that current levels of Pillar 1 spending would be maintained to 2020 has essentially delivered one of the Union’s ’10 commitments’, we need government to deliver certainty on the nine remaining priorities. By doing this, it will provide security for the provenance of Scottish produce, send a clear message to EU citizens working in Scotland, and allow markets to work better for Scottish farmers and crofters in the future.

“While the UK Government’s intention is that devolved administrations should get the same money as would otherwise have come to them had the UK remained in the EU we need to know how the UK Government will do this.

“And although the Treasury has guaranteed payments for direct support (Pillar 1) such as the basic payment scheme, greening, sheep coupled and cattle coupled support up to 2020, there has been no commitment for rural development (Pillar 2) funding, which includes the vital Less Favoured Area Support Scheme (LFASS) and agri-environment schemes.

“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. Most farmers and crofters wish they could deliver these benefits without the need for financial support however the reality is the marketplace does not allow that to happen.

“LFASS and agri-environment schemes are a way of recognising market failure while delivering public benefits and funding for these schemes needs to be guaranteed in the same way that funding for direct payments has been.

“The Union remains clear that while the outcome of the vote brings a period of significant uncertainty, it also presents an opportunity to negotiate the best possible deal to support our farming and food sectors, including a new agricultural support system that is appropriate and sensitive to our national context.”