The remit and membership of the farming and food production policy group are under active consideration and details will be confirmed in due course. As indicated during the parliamentary debate on 6 March, the Scottish ministers are committed to establishing the group in a way that reflects the wishes of Parliament, and membership will include representation of farmers, environmental organisations and consumers.
I do not want commit to a specific timetable. I can assure the member and all members across the chamber that active consideration is being given to the composition of the group. It is a very important piece of work that Parliament wishes us to do, and I am always happy to take the views of members into account. I have a remit from Parliament that I intend to fulfil as soon as I can, but I find that imposing a deadline on one’s self is perhaps not a prudent ministerial practice.
We want Scotland to be a world-class producer of high-quality food. We believe that we are producing that food sustainably, profitably and efficiently. The agricultural chapter of the Scottish Government’s climate change plan sets out our approach and we are working with the industry and with our institutes and our renowned scientific community, which contribute so much in that area.
We have reinforced our intentions with three commitments in the 2018-19 programme for government: our young farmer climate change champions, which we have delivered on; the nitrogen modelling tool, which we are on target to deliver; and the farming for a better climate programme.
I refer members to my farming interests in my entry in the register of members’ interests.
The cabinet secretary will be aware from recent Scottish farm business income estimates that although average farm income has risen, too many farms are still making average losses of £7,400. What support can the Scottish Government provide to farms now in term of food production to help them to diversify in order to become more financially sustainable?
Mr Cameron is right to make that point. Indeed, I met some farmers from Lochaber with him just a few weeks ago
. I am acutely aware that many farmers in less favoured area support scheme areas, particularly in hill farm areas in the Highlands and Islands, face acute financial pressures. That is why we have worked very hard to deliver loan payments for the basic payments scheme from October last year—two months ahead of most of the rest of the UK—and for LFASS from March. Most of the LFASS loan payments have been made.
My main job is to get that financial support out of the door and into the hands of farmers and crofters. In practical terms, we have succeeded in that, and I am acutely aware that with the pressure of Brexit and the fear of the unknown and what that may lead to, it is a very important piece of work. I can assure Mr Cameron and other members that that has my daily attention, with weekly conference calls—including this morning—with officials, to make sure that team Scotland is on the case. I believe that we have been and are.