CAMPAIGNERS are calling on the Scottish Government to take independent advice ahead of making spending decisions on agriculture.

The Agriculture and Rural Communities Bill will redesign the system of payments to farmers and crofters in Scotland.

The bill is currently at stage one with Scottish Government ministers aiming to create legislation that will simultaneously produce more sustainable food, support farmers in mitigating and adapting to climate change, and boost biodiversity on agricultural land.

However, environmental campaigners are concerned that the new system will not do enough to encourage changes in food production in time to meet crucial climate and nature targets.

In evidence submitted to a Scottish Parliament committee, the coalition Scottish Environment LINK – which is made up of more than 40 different environmental organisastions – called on minister to be required to take independent advice before setting out their five year rural support plan.

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The duty to seek advice would echo a similar duty in the Climate Change Act, which sees climate policy subject to independent oversight from the Climate Change Committee.

The director of food policy charity Nourish Scotland, Pete Ritchie, is the convener of LINK’s food and farming group.

He told The National that the singular nature of the opportunity made independent advice vital to the legislation’s success.

“Farming is vital to Scotland’s future, and we must support farmers and crofters to become more sustainable,” he said.

“The introduction of new Scottish agriculture legislation is a once in a lifetime opportunity to create a better system.

“Government policy should be evidence-based and informed by the best independent advice.

The National: How agricultural funding works in Scotland is set to change How agricultural funding works in Scotland is set to change

“We know that agriculture will be central to reducing climate emissions and protecting nature - it is essential that the new farm funding system measures up to the changes we need.”

The campaigners note that agriculture is the second highest source of carbon emissions in Scotland and that certain farming practices contribute to declines in wildlife and biodiversity.

As part of their Farm for Scotland’s Future campaign, LINK want at least three quarters of public spending on farming to support methods that restore nature and tackle climate change.

The group is also calling for the bill to include the adoption of legal targets to reduce agriculture’s environmental impact, through, for example, reduced pesticide use.

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David McKay, head of policy at the Soil Association in Scotland, added: “We need to take seriously the changes in farming that will be required to stop climate change and nature loss, all while producing food.

“A sustainable food system is possible but, to get there, we need governments to grapple with the fact that business as usual is not an option.

“Building in independent, expert advice to the creation of a new farm funding system would send a strong signal that the Scottish Government are committed to the change required.”

Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs Mairi Gougeon said:

“Scottish Environment LINK will know from its involvement in our Agriculture Reform Implementation Advisory Board that the development of proposals for the new rural support framework is being informed by independent advice, as well as the expertise of stakeholders, including members of Scottish Environment LINK and from the Academic Advisory Panel that sits alongside the Board.

“It is good to see that we are all in agreement about the Vision for Agriculture which sets out our aim to transform how we support farming and food production in Scotland, to create a framework which delivers high quality food production, climate mitigation and adaptation and nature restoration.”