Is the cabinet secretary aware that dog fouling on agricultural land, which affects the quality of crops and the health of animals, is a major issue for farmers and that the NFU Scotland’s pilot poster campaign in Dumbarton, the Pentlands and Motherwell, which illustrated by the use of fluorescent light the extent of dog dirt on agricultural land, has halved the incidence of dog fouling where the posters were displayed? However, does he agree that, ultimately, legislative change is required in the form of removing section 2(2) of the Dog Fouling (Scotland) Act 2003, which exempts agricultural land from the provisions of the act?
I appreciate that this is a serious issue for Scotland’s agricultural sector and I know that NFU Scotland and others issue regular warnings to dog owners to behave responsibly throughout the year.
I am not familiar with the initiative that Margaret Mitchell mentioned, and I would be interested in hearing more about it. With regard to the law, I would be happy to look into the issue that she raises and get back to her in writing, as I would be interested in learning more about the potential options to address the issue.
I have a supplementary question that relates to when the cabinet secretary last met NFU Scotland. Has he met it to talk about the impact of flooding? I am conscious that many farms have lost topsoil; the flooding has had a huge impact. Will he put in place special measures to ensure that our farmers are able to get off to a decent start in 2016?
I thank Sarah Boyack for raising that issue in the chamber. Like other members, I am sure, I have been staggered and amazed by some of the sights that I have seen on Scotland’s farmlands. Yesterday, as I drove from my home in Elgin to Parliament via Inverurie, Brechin and Perth, looking at the farmland on the way was an eye-opener as to the level of devastation across the country, including to farmland. I used the opportunity to visit Kincraig farm, just outside Brechin, where I met the Sims and viewed their fields, including their arable field, where spring barley will—hopefully—be sown in a few months. It looked like part of the river, which was jaw-dropping to see.
I am in discussion with NFU Scotland and I will initiate further discussions with the wider sector this week to understand both the scale of the impact on farmland and what measures we can take, if any, to mitigate the impact and to work with the farmers. I have given a commitment to have those discussions.
On the question of expediting applications for CAP payments from farmers who have been most affected by the flooding, I said following the spate of flooding—forgive the pun—just a few weeks ago that any farmers with specific issues because of flooding should contact their local offices and notify us of their predicament and we will see what we can do. I cannot make any guarantees, because every case will be different across the country, but I am conscious that that may be one option, so I ask farmers to contact their local offices.