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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 Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

The debate has improved with time, thankfully, and I hope that it has given the cabinet secretary some food for thought.

A number of speakers have questioned our amendment and why we have tackled food poverty and rural poverty in a debate about farming. I repeat that 45 per cent of farms make an income of less than the minimum agricultural wage and 23 per cent operate at a loss—that cannot be anything other than poverty. If we are looking at schemes going forward, we will need to tackle that. It is simply wrong that some people make huge amounts of money out of the support that is available but the 45 per cent who really need that help are not getting it. If we are devising a new scheme, we need to make sure that the support goes to the right people.

The same applies to food production and food poverty. At the moment, we are not paying some producers enough, yet food is not affordable to our population. Those things are inextricably linked. When we look at support, we need to make sure that we make those links and ensure that the industry—and the support that we put into it—deals with those issues. Colin Smyth said that we should enshrine a human right to food, and I believe that we should do that. If we do, it will inform our policy. That is the mainstay of our amendment, and I hope that people will support it, because it is incredibly important.

A number of speakers—Mark Ruskell, Colin Smyth and Stewart Stevenson—spoke about farming and the environment. It is a big issue and the move to net zero has been looked at by the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee. Mitigation has come up in the debate. The farming sector mitigates a huge amount of carbon and it is not given credit for that. Although we look at farming sector outputs, nobody looks at what the sector is sequestering. We need to do that to encourage more farmers to take carbon sequestration on board, and we need to reward them for their work. Any new scheme in that direction must not be competitive; I have heard so many people say that they cannot qualify for environmental schemes because they are competitive and a small farm cannot compete with a large farm and tick the same boxes.

John Scott said that net zero may force people out of business. We need to talk about that now, because we need a just transition, so that we do not force people out of business but make sure that support is available. We already have too many air miles for our food; we need local producers and local procurement so that we cut food air miles and carbon.

Needless to say, the debate has focused a great deal on Brexit, which is not surprising. Mairi Gougeon talked about the other rural funding, LEADER, and said that we have no idea what will be in place going forward. It would be good if the Scottish Government considered what it would prioritise in those schemes. The EU prioritises peripherality and we need our Governments to look at those issues. Yes, they may be waiting to hear whether they have the money, but we need to ensure that the direction of travel is there and that people know what they can expect from future policy.

As Colin Smyth said, having no deal would be a disaster. However, the backstop would also be a disaster for farming, because it includes fish and agriculture and tariffs would become payable. That would therefore not improve the situation either.

In conclusion, Presiding Officer—I can see that you are looking at me—Edward Mountain talked about land reform, the lack of tenancies and the need to stop land reform. I argue that that is a reason to push ahead with land reform, because, if those who are managing the land cannot provide the tenancies, we need to put the land in the hands of those who would manage it for the many, not the few.