I declare an interest as a partner in a farming business.
The debate has allowed us to have an important conversation about the future direction of travel for Scottish agriculture. I have always said that the great prize that Brexit offers is the opportunity to design a system of support that is better suited to the needs of Scottish agriculture, and to move away from the outdated CAP system, which has simply not worked for our farmers for many years.
Although I am glad that we are having the debate, it is unfortunate that Conservative members had to initiate it. Despite constant requests from everyone in Parliament and the farming community for certainty on the future direction, we know only that the Scottish
Government intends to carry on with little change to the CAP rules until 2024. That is very disappointing: that is far too long a lead-in to changes that can, and should, be made much more quickly.
NFU Scotland has said that “Brexit is a golden opportunity” for change. Today, we have published our plans, which I commend to everyone in the chamber. My colleagues have explained some of those plans, but it appears that the cabinet secretary has not been listening.
Nevertheless, I am glad to hear that we all agree that a farmer’s first priority is to produce the high-quality food that we all enjoy. Efficient food production must be built on strong environmental and animal welfare standards, so it is important that a suite of environmental measures that all farmers can join be put in place. Payments should be made for environmental outcomes that are simple to apply for, simple to implement and easily measured.
I have always been vocal about my support for the Scottish Government’s target to grow the value of our food and drink industry to £30 billion by 2030. However, to double that industry, we must support and sustain the growth of our agriculture sector and the farmers who grow the raw materials from which our award-winning and world-renowned products are made.
I had hoped that the debate would be a positive one, but Mairi Gougeon went straight into the usual SNP grief, grievance and scaremongering mode about a no-deal Brexit. Let me spell out to her and to all SNP members here that the simple way to avoid no deal is to vote for the deal. They should listen to NFU Scotland and the National Farmers Union in England and Wales, and they should listen to business. They want a deal that will give us certainty and tariff-free access to EU markets, and allow our lamb to flow into Europe.
The hypocrisy from the SNP is breathtaking. Mairi Gougeon also said that there is no certainty about funding. The UK Government has guaranteed support payments until 2022: that is more certainty than farmers in the EU have, given that our contribution to the EU will cease and support for agriculture is likely to fall as a result.