Climate Targets (Agriculture)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 18th November 2021.

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Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Labour

4. To ask the Scottish Government what actions are being taken to ensure that the agriculture sector plays a leading role in delivering a net zero Scotland. (S6O-00391)

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

Agriculture is absolutely taking a leading role, collectively, through the agriculture reform implementation oversight board. On 28 October, I announced a £51 million national test programme that will support our farmers and crofters to learn how their work impacts on climate and nature, and help us understand how sustainable farming can be supported and rewarded in future. That builds on a range of other support, including grants, advice and research, to deliver our vision for Scottish agriculture: to transform the sector to become a global leader in sustainable and regenerative agriculture, delivering on our ambitious climate targets.

Photo of Martin Whitfield Martin Whitfield Labour

I am grateful for that answer and I am sure that the minister will agree that a one-size-fits-all approach will not be effective. Our local farmers need flexibility, so what steps is the Scottish Government taking to deliver a flexible approach that will enable different farms with different circumstances to secure support to help tackle climate change?

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

That is an absolutely critical point and the work that we are undertaking through the implementation oversight board is pivotal to that. We wanted to make sure that we had representation across the board, so 21 members represent different geographies and sectors across Scotland, as well as environmental interests. That representation means that we can really help to shape and develop the policy together and make sure that we get it right for the different parts of Scotland and the different needs that exist.

Photo of Rachael Hamilton Rachael Hamilton Conservative

Last week, leading agricultural figures, including Scotland’s young farmers, penned a powerful open letter of concern to Mairi Gougeon. Despite their efforts, hard-working farmers have been demonised over emissions and their morale is low, because of a negative perception that they are to blame for climate change—and that is fuelled by some politicians. Furthermore, it did not help that, recently, when given the opportunity, the First Minister did not deny that one of the Scottish National Party policies to meet net zero is to cull 300,000 cattle.

Rural Scotland is waiting. Presiding Officer, I hope that you will support me when I ask that the cabinet secretary comes to the chamber with a ministerial statement to address the very serious issues that are raised in that letter.

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

I feel quite fed up of having to respond to that point. I have already responded to that question from Rachael Hamilton three times in this chamber and reaffirmed that it is not—and will not be—our policy to cull livestock. I also confirmed that very clearly in a statement at the NFU Scotland conference on 28 October, and I hope that this response will finally knock that claim on the head.

I completely understand the concerns that have been raised by the Scottish young farmers. I responded to them immediately I saw the letter that they had sent to me on Twitter. I have since followed that up with a letter inviting them to meet me to discuss their concerns.

I am with the industry in that regard. I am taking every opportunity to challenge that negative perception. People are already doing fantastic, pioneering work in agriculture. It is our job to support, encourage and enable that through our transformation programme.

Photo of Jenni Minto Jenni Minto Scottish National Party

The Scottish Government’s world-leading climate change legislation sets a target date for net zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2045. Could the cabinet secretary outline how the recently announced national test programme will lay the groundwork for Scotland’s agriculture sector to be global leaders in sustainable agriculture?

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

Our positive vision seeks to transform Scottish agriculture to be low carbon and sustainable in the future. Through the national test programme, farmers and crofters will be able to better understand their current environmental performance and efficiency, for example, through undertaking carbon audits and nutrient management plans. That will enable them to mitigate their businesses’ greenhouse gas emissions. The programme will also put in place livestock data and performance systems for businesses in the beef sector, with the aim of improving both business and emissions performance.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

Those who farm in the Lomond hills regional park in Fife have a significant role to play in the climate change mitigation efforts, as well as in public access. They do not make a lot of money off the land. Can the cabinet secretary reassure me that the new farm support mechanism will reflect the contribution that they make to climate change and public access, so that they can continue their good work?

Photo of Mairi Gougeon Mairi Gougeon Scottish National Party

Where that good work is happening already, we want to ensure that it continues. As part of the vision for agriculture that I have set out, we want to support active farming and food production, as well as supporting our farmers and crofters to lower emissions to the lowest possible level and to enhance their biodiversity. We have already said that by 2025, we will be making half of all the direct payments conditional. As I say, we want to support active farming and food production and to keep people on our land.