NO matter what happens after a hard Brexit, future financial support for Scottish farming is now a matter for public debate.
I personally would like to see a new social contract between farmers and the people of Scotland where there is a stronger connection between what we grow and what we eat and a clear link between public support, public health and public good – but it is up to us to start that debate.
If used well, this impending crisis can be a real opportunity to rethink our whole nation’s attitude to agriculture and food, to the rural economy and indeed the health of all our people. However, if we let it, a hard Brexit will be a catastrophe on four levels for Scottish farming. First, let’s look at EU support for farming through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
Loading article content
At the moment Scotland gets £500m from CAP Pillar 1 (direct payments) and £150m in Pillar 2 payments (for agri-environment schemes). All payments are guaranteed until 2020.
There are 20,000 farmers in Scotland. We have 33 per cent of the land area of the UK, 8.5 per cent of the population, but we get 16.5 per cent of the CAP Pillar 1 subsidy for the UK because of our farming conditions. I anticipate that a UK Farming Policy, as opposed to a Scottish Food Policy, will immediately seek to reduce the percentage paid to Scotland.
For 10 years, successive UK Governments have been saying that it wants to reduce Pillar 1 payments to zero – so post 2020, we shouldn’t be surprised if Pillar 1 is significantly cut, if not removed completely.
In Scotland 80 per cent of the £500m paid through Pillar 1 goes to just 20 per cent of the farmers. Whilst farmers have to undertake specific activity in order to obtain Pillar 2 grants, there is no link between activity and payment under Pillar 1. In any new funding regime, Pillar 1 becomes increasingly indefensible without a robust connection between subsidy and activity.
You also don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out that the removal of over £500 million per year support from the Scottish farming net income of £667 million will be horrendous.
Secondly, we will see tariffs levied on our exports. That could put as much as 69 per cent on the price of lamb we export, for instance, so clearly other countries will go elsewhere for their food as ours will be too expensive.
Thirdly, I understand that leaving the EU has consequences. I just don’t think we will get tariff-free access to the EU after a hard Brexit. Worse still, if we end up operating under World Trade Organisation rules, we will not be allowed to make any “trade distorting payments” or production subsidies to our farmers.
My fourth and final level of anxiety is that after a hard Brexit and the UK Government doing trade deals outside the EU, we could see a flood of unregulated cheap imports such as meat from countries that do not have the same protections on products as the EU.
This is a perfect storm for Scottish farming, but we have been presented with a real opportunity to bring in a new CAP – a Citizens’ Agricultural Policy.
It’s time for Scotland to have a civic discussion about what we grow, what we eat and what think is a fair social contract for farmers.
At the moment there is a complete disconnect between what we grow and what we eat. We export our best meat, our venison, our fish and we import frozen lasagne – we are not eating our own produce and we are not growing our own food, at least not enough of it.
Let’s take the two years before Brexit to examine everything from use of land to the supply chain, to support for farmers on the basis of the public good, bringing forward rural economy regeneration and meeting environmental targets. Many farmers are interested in starting that conversation.
A Citizens’ Agricultural Policy could be the best result of a hard Brexit. The alternative is catastrophe.