The Scottish government must “seize the moment” and deliver for Scottish farming following the passing of the new Agriculture and Rural Communities (Scotland) Bill.

This is the view of Scottish Land & Estates (SLE), which said it welcomed the successful changes in the earlier stages of the bill process and welcomed its journey towards Royal Assent.

The bill is set to become law, after backing from Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) yesterday (Tuesday, June 18).

However, the rural business organisation warned that the “real work starts now” as it appealed to the Scottish government to follow through on its commitment to work with stakeholders to ensure that the legislation can be built on to maximise benefits to farming and rural Scotland.

SLE senior policy adviser on agriculture and climate change, Eleanor Kay, said: “This bill presented a crucial opportunity to create legislation that is fit for Scotland.

“We welcome the fact the Scottish government and opposition parties have listened to key concerns and have embraced amendments to the bill that we and others in the sector campaigned on vigorously.”

SLE welcomed amendments to the bill that resulted in:

  • More detail on the content of the Rural Support Plan;
  • Detail on Rural Support Plan engagement with farmers and stakeholders;
  • Requirement for government to produce a report on each Rural Support Plan;
  • Additional reporting requirements for food security;
  • Clearer opportunities for natural flood management and resilience support;
  • Greater monitoring and evaluation of support schemes;
  • Inclusion of reintroduced native species in provisions to assist farmers who have sustained loss or damage in consequence of their reintroduction.

Farmers ‘need to take action now’

Kay said there is clearly lots of work still to be done for agriculture to transition to the new agriculture support, however farmers “need to take action now” to be in the best position to take advantage of the new schemes.

“The passing of this bill provides a clear signal to the sector that sustainable and regenerative agriculture will be supported,” she said.

“As detail on new schemes is being decided, clearer communication will be needed from government on what to expect, and when.

“Scottish government must work with stakeholders to overcome any challenges holding back the development of the future policy and support framework in Scotland, ensuring that we use diverse expertise to develop a coherent and sustainable future policy.”

Kay said the SLE remains concerned that communication to the sector on future support is not sufficient and more must be done by the government to ensure true co-design of policy.

“We firmly believe that extensive consultation will be required for the secondary legislation associated with the bill and are reassured that Scottish government has acknowledged this in the passage of the bill.

“This will provide greater reassurance for the sector and deliver a clearer message to the sector so it can make strategic business decisions before the new support framework is delivered.”

NFUS reaction

The National Farmers’ Union of Scotland (NFUS) has said it welcomes the passing of the bill and believes the framework legislation is “critical”.

NFUS director of policy, Jonnie Hall, said: “The bill reflects so much of what we have pressed for over the last few years.

“It means we have the tools in place to implement a new agricultural support framework to enable farmers and crofters to deliver the desired outcomes around food production, biodiversity enhancement and climate change mitigation that only they can.

“This legislation is vital as it enables Scotland, in a post-Brexit, post-CAP era, to develop its own approach to future policy and support.”

Hall said the union has been clear from the start, stating that the bill must have flexibility and scope to deliver for farmers and crofters across Scotland.

“A profitable, sustainable agricultural industry is key to Scotland’s ambitions and having the powers to deliver the right support is crucial. Powers are one thing; it is how those powers are used that matters most.

“With the primary legislation in place, the task of developing and implementing the new support framework can really begin. Getting this right is critical.

“Farmers and crofters must be recognised and rewarded for actions they take, and incentivised to enable change to improve the resilience, efficiency and profitability of the agriculture sector. Only then will the outcomes we all want be delivered.”