ON Wednesday afternoon, MSPs debated the proposed Vision for Agriculture in Scotland – a document which sets out the Government’s ambitions for the agriculture industry in the country.

But what is this vision? And why does the way farmers are funded have to change? 

Why is the funding system changing?

Before Brexit, farmers in Scotland – and across the UK – received funding via the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).

This scheme applied to all countries in the European Union and was entirely funded by the EU’s budget (which, of course, the UK paid into).

It aims to support farmers, increase agricultural productivity and ensure that supplies of affordable food are maintained.

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This occurred through a mix of direct payments to farmers, regulation of markets and investment in programmes to aid rural development within specific regions.

In 2018, the Scottish Government negotiated a transition period of approximately five years where farmers would still receive funding via CAP after the UK left the EU.

Within this transition period, Holyrood is expected to pass legislation which will change how the agricultural industry is funded once the CAP is no longer applicable.

What is the Vision for Agriculture?

Published last year, the Scottish Government’s Vision for Agriculture sets out its long-term goals and highlights its ambitions for an Agriculture Bill, which is expected to be introduced to the Scottish Parliament later this year.

Much like the CAP it aims to secure high-quality food production as well as boost nature restoration and climate mitigation on agricultural land.

Indeed, the ambition is to make Scotland a “global leader in sustainable and regenerative agriculture”.

A consultation on the Vision for Agriculture closed in December last year with the responses expected to be made public in the spring.

What’s the response been like so far?

Scottish Environment LINK, an organisation representing more than 40 environmental groups in Scotland including the RSPB, the John Muir Trust and WWF, supports the government’s ambition but is calling on the new system to deliver for the environment where the CAP failed.

Emissions from farming have fallen at a much slower pace than many other sectors and the CAP scheme has previously been criticised for failing to push farmers into adopting more sustainable practices.

LINK wants a new Agriculture Bill to devote at least three-quarters of the farming budget to methods that restore nature and help tackle climate change.

Deborah Long, chief officer at Scottish Environment LINK, said: “The Scottish Government’s new Agriculture Bill is expected this year, and will be a key moment in the fight against climate change and nature loss.

The National:

"This should matter to all MSPs, whether they represent rural areas or not, because farming is connected to all of us – we all depend on our food producers, and we are all impacted by environmental loss.

“Farmers and crofters need support to enable them to produce food in ways that restore nature, tackle climate change, and revitalise our rural areas for the benefit of everyone.

“The funding system we have in place right now just doesn’t do that, as the majority of funding is distributed on the basis of how much land you own, not how you use it. We need the Scottish Government to create a new farm funding system that works for nature, climate and people.

"This means spending at least three-quarters of the farming budget on methods that restore nature and tackle climate change, and supporting all farmers and crofters in the transition to sustainable farming.”

The National Farmers Union Scotland Scotland have previously said that the vision fails to fill an “alarming policy void” facing farmers and crofters and are calling on specific policy proposals to be released as soon as possible.

The Scottish Government has already published a route map which details when current schemes will end and transition to new schemes will begin.

However, speaking in Holyrood, Tory MSP Rachael Hamilton said the map isn’t “much comfort to farmers” because it isn’t “structured enough to allow them to take into account seasonality because they need to be planning five to ten years ahead.”

Hamilton said that the SNP/Green government had repeatedly “failed” rural communities and that the SNP was “hamstrung by the radical Green party”.

She also repeatedly claimed that the Scottish Government was asking farmers to place carbon sequestration and environmental concern above food production.

But Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon said that she “really doesn’t think it’s fair to pit food production against nature and climate”.