Rural Payments Strategy 2020-21

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 12th November 2020.

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Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Throughout the pandemic, Scotland’s farmers and crofters, their workers and families, and businesses and employees all across the agriculture industry have done what they do best, which is put food on the table. I want to thank everyone in farming and food production for all that they have done for our nation over the past nine months.

There is no doubt that agriculture has not been so hugely affected by the pandemic, but there have been issues. We have all felt the loss of this year’s agricultural shows, including the Royal Highland Show. For an industry that often involves solitary working in remote rural and island areas, with families often being isolated for long periods too, those shows provide welcome, and sadly missed, social opportunities.

Auction and livestock marts have had to operate differently this year. I thank the industry for working with us to create guidance and working practices that have enabled them to continue.

The pandemic created challenges for fruit and vegetable growers in respect of securing a workforce at the right time, but with the support throughout of Mairi Gougeon, the Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment, they have not only provided work for people from home and from abroad, but have kept the supply of Scottish berries flowing right into autumn. The weather has, at times, created adversity, but we have had worse springs and summers. Projected record cereal harvests for this year are testament to that.

In supporting farming and food production, the Government has one key job, which is to ensure that farmers and crofters get their support payments on time. We opened the 2020 single application form window on time and we closed it with no need for an extension beyond 15 May. By June, we had not only paid out all 2019 common agricultural policy pillar 1 payments on time, but had done so at the earliest ever date in this period of the CAP.

We also met the new requirement to make over 95 per cent of pillar 2 payments by the European Union’s payment deadline of 30 June—a new deadline, I may say—and we have been the first part of the United Kingdom to start getting 2020 moneys out to farmers and crofters. Payments under this year’s national loan scheme began on 1 September, and by 30 October 13,652 loan payments, worth more than £335 million to the rural economy, had been processed.

I pay tribute to the Scottish Government rural payments and inspections division teams across Scotland for delivering all that. They shifted 17 area offices seamlessly to home working during the spring and no one actually noticed, which is surely a measure of the success of the operation.

Brexit, of course, looms large over that success, with there being still so many unknowns. We do not yet know the terms of a deal with the EU, or even whether there will be a deal. We know that exporting key food products will be more bureaucratic, but we do not yet know whether they will also face tariffs. Crucially, with exactly seven weeks to go until the end of the Brexit transition period, we know precious little about what funding we will have for 2021-22 across both CAP pillars.

Ironically, if Scotland had been staying in the EU, then like all other EU states—[

Interruption

.]—I am sorry; I have dropped the rest of my statement. I do not know whether somebody can help me.