Ongoing support to agriculture from the public purse could prove to be a boon for the environment, according to a high-level report on the industry.
A vibrant farming and crofting sector could help many areas remain self-sustainable, helping the government reduce its carbon emissions, said Brian Pack, chairman of the inquiry into future support for agriculture in Scotland.
His final recommendations, released today, insisted there was clear justification for future public spending on farming and crofting.
“Our view of a bright future stems from the belief that Scottish farming and society have a common goal in requiring a more sustainable Scottish agricultural industry,” he said.
“We defined this as: ‘an agricultural sector that is innovative and competitive, and has food production as its primary purpose, but also delivers a range of other benefits which help to meet the global challenges of food security, climate change, water and energy supply and bio-diversity’.”
The report identifies that the key function of Scottish agriculture is to produce food which, in itself, justifies public spending.
However society as a whole needs help in achieving other global challenges – not least its contribution to reducing carbon emissions in line with government targets.
“We recognise that a move to increased sustainability is essential to Scottish farming’s long-term future as it is to [the] Scottish government’s purpose of increasing sustainable economic growth,” said Mr Pack.
Many farms are reliant on direct subsidies, or Single Farm Payments. The inquiry recommends direct payments be maintained in the years ahead. Parts of the payments should, however, be paid as “top up funds”.
These should be made in return for a commitment to improve sustainability and deliver against global challenges.
The final report confirms earlier concerns that area payments do not work for larger areas – particularly permanent pasture and rough grazing.
The report says different support mechanisms should exist for places classed as LFA (Less Favoured Area) and non-LFA.
Non-LFA – with its choice of what to produce and, therefore, its greater freedom to be market-focused – should qualify for a combination of direct and top-up payments.
Less-favoured areas, meanwhile, have three streams of support recommended – low area payments, combined beef and lamb payment schemes and a top up fund based on the business’s ability to contribute to global challenges.
The report said Scotland had nothing to fear from the EU looking for better equity between member states as regard direct payments.
It provides 18 recommendations to the government on what should be negotiated with the EU, as well as the UK government.
A further 22 recommendations are believed to be within the Scottish government’s power to implement.