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Supporting Scottish Agriculture

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 6th March 2019.

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Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

No, I am afraid that I will not. I am sorry.

Land abandonment is a current and real threat that could create wilderness on a scale not seen since the 18th century as well as causing rural depopulation and the loss of the people who have the skills to produce and maintain the working and managed landscapes that we currently enjoy.

In addition, computers that do not work have taken another £200 million out of Scottish farmers’ pockets. Rural payment schemes that reduce or delay cash flows do not really help, and reducing LFASS payments just makes a bad situation worse.

I know that the cabinet secretary is doing his best to support farmers, but those are some of the day-to-day obstacles that need to be overcome just to put food on the table, before we even start considering where we are headed.

Of course, we need increased productivity, but productivity cannot be achieved without profitability. Again, I refer the cabinet secretary to the TIFF figures. Of course we need environmental protections and enhancement in the delivery of public goods and climate change mitigation, but not if the delivery of those public goods helps to put farmers out of business.

Simplification is long overdue, and the new support scheme that is proposed under new Scottish legislation should seek to achieve that. Perhaps we should take a leaf from the Irish Government’s book on how to create a simplified system.

Education and knowledge transfer are also vital if our heirs and successors are to be equipped in the use of more sophisticated food production techniques at the same time as delivering on further greenhouse gas reduction targets. I hope that the cabinet secretary and Mark Ruskell agree that being the world leader in climate change mitigation targets is not worth it if that means driving farmers and food producers out of Scotland and forcing us to buy more of our food from other countries in the world to replace lost production in Scotland.

The huge success of Scotland’s food and drink sector cannot be continued or sustained without the raw materials to do so, but the levels of those raw materials are constantly reducing, particularly in the livestock sector. We will get to a point at which we will have difficulty in sustaining the idea that the end product is derived from produce that is grown in Scotland.

The cabinet secretary knows how important having people in our countryside is, and he knows how important LFASS payments are to the 85 per cent of Scotland that is classified as less favoured areas. That is why existing payment rates must be sustained. I commend Donald Cameron’s motion.