SNP Vision for Agriculture is Mainstream European Thinking

06 January 2009
Scotland's only full member of the European Parliament's Agriculture Committee Mr Alyn Smith has today (Tuesday) hailed a speech by Cabinet Secretary for Rural Development Richard Lochhead MSP outlining the SNP's vision for Agriculture as entirely in the mainstream of European thinking where the UK anti-farming policies are totally out of step.

Richard Lochhead was speaking to the Oxford Farming Conference, and in a wide-ranging speech stressed that "the primary purpose of Scottish Agriculture should always be food production" and that farming does merit support from the public purse in order to ensure food sovereignty, as well as subsidiary environmental and public benefits.

Smith said:

"2009 is going to be a big year for Agriculture, as well as discussions on LFA policy we will see the serious negotiations over the long term future of the CAP move forward in earnest. I am working hard to bring the other half of the EU budget, the structural funds, into this discussion as I want to see as much public money going to Agriculture as possible. In these uncertain times there can be no higher priority than food sovereignty, and the SNP's vision for Agriculture sets a very clear objective of farmers producing quality local produce people want to eat, as well as tending to the environment by virtue of what they do.

"By contrast, the UK government is anti-farming, short-sighted and, more to the point, utterly isolated in European circles. It does not make my job any easier when the UK Ministers are hell bent on abolishing support altogether, which would devastate vast swathes of my country as well as leave us dependent upon increasingly expensive and unreliable foreign imports.

"Richard's speech today is particularly important, as it comes at a time when we have everything to play for in EU circles by engaging enthusiastically with the reforms being contemplated. The laser-beam certainty that farmers exist to produce food, not act as glorified gardeners, is particularly welcome. Where some organisations have sought to view public support from the other end of the spectrum - trying to find ever more convoluted ways to support the provision of environmental public goods - I believe that if we focus ruthlessly on the primary objective we could see a massive increase in support for farmers, especially if we bring the structural funds into the equation."

Extracts from Richard Lochhead's speech are reproduced below:

"Farmers gather in Oxford against a backdrop of economic uncertainty but I believe that the Scottish Government's vision for agriculture combined with the industry's reputation and skills provides hope and optimism for the industry.

"Scotland has attached great importance to agriculture. My vision for Scotland is to have agri-food and land-based industries which produce for the market, are recognised for the economic, social and environmental benefits derived from them, and which are appropriately regulated.

"What I would like to see for the future is, effectively, a new contract between our society and farmers to deliver clear outcomes in the interests of Scotland. A contract that recognises the fundamental role of farmers and land managers in managing and utilising Scotland's biggest asset in the public interest, then addresses specific issues through more targeted measures.

"Our policy tools need to ensure that farmers will only get the payment if they actively carry out the practices that deliver economic, social and environmental benefits.

"The agri-food sector is strategically important to Scotland and farming continues to be a mainstay of the rural economy.

"The primary purpose of Scottish agriculture should always be food production. Maintaining a national capacity to produce food is crucial for Scotland's future. That requires an infrastructure and workforce with the necessary skills. Given the national importance of agriculture, public support for farming is wholly justified and will be essential in the years ahead especially given the unique challenges faced by Scottish farmers.

"The Treasury-driven DEFRA vision for agriculture that calls for a quick end to subsidies and that UK Ministers are attempting to sell to the EU is not Scotland's vision as it ignores Scotland's unique circumstances.

"2009 will be a pivotal year for our industry. We will be taking decisions on how to implement the Common Agriculture Policy Health Check and we will be deciding on the shape of our Less Favoured Area support from 2010 onwards.

"We are also reviewing the Scotland Rural Development Programme to see whether it is properly equipped to deal with the challenges of the economic downturn.

"Putting together clear, successful policies for the future will need genuine engagement, by governments and stakeholders.

"Food is now higher on Scotland's agenda that ever before and our farmers are a vital resource in delivering food security for future generations."