Farming Futures

By Fiona Grahame

FionaAmongst the many lessons we will no doubt learn from The Beast Fae The East is that our food network is a shaky one. Even putting aside the panic buying of Scots unable to cope without a white sliced loaf, supermarket shelves also became scarce of fruit and vegetables.

In the islands we are used to food shortages as sometimes ferries cannot get in so we do tend to stock up. Reliance on supermarkets, lack of knowledge of basic cooking and expecting fresh produce regardless of the natural growing season means we rely on food transported by HGVs over great distances. Add into this mix the severe poverty many in our community now face which means they actually are financially unable to stock up but instead buy day to day.

brexit-imageThe UK will leave the EU in just over a year’s time. Most of the fresh fruits and vegetables we buy come from the 27 remaining member countries. They come in at a price we can afford. Brexit will change that. Fresh food will be delayed at ferry ports and entry points as they go through the necessary checks. Time is money.  Prices will go up.

Our farms have by business necessity become more specialised. It will take some time for them to make changes to diversify.

Will they be supported to make these changes?

As members of the EU Scotland’s farms have had agricultural subsidies and there is still uncertainty about their continuation and what if anything will replace them. At the moment Michael Gove, Environment Secretary in the UK Government has said that farm subsidies will continue till 2022. That’s not a long time in farming terms when you may have to change what you are producing.

New Entrants into Farming

The Scottish Government has acknowledged that we need new entrants into farming. 1,000 hectares of what was public land is to be made available this Spring to those wanting to get the start up they need. It is thought that up to 50 new farmers may take up the opportunity.  This is in addition to an earlier release of land which saw 35 New Entrants take up 1,400 hectares. A third of Scottish farmers are 65 or over so encouraging a younger generation into the industry is essential.

Financial support for new entrants is also available.

  • Young Farmer Start-up Grant – support of €70,000 per eligible business to support young farmers who have been head of a business for less than 18 months
  • New Entrants Start-up Grant – support of €15,000 per eligible business to support new entrants to farming of any age of smaller holdings and who have been head of a business for less than 12 months
  • New Entrant Capital Grant Support – capital support of up to £25,000 to assist business development projects to all new entrants who started their business in the 5 years preceding application.

A young farmer is deemed to be under 40 years of age.

It is intended that more public and private owned land will be released for farming.

Fergus Ewing, Rural Economy Secretary in the Scottish Government  said:

“One of the primary barriers to attracting new entrants to farming is the availability of land. That is why I am pleased to announce that public bodies will release over 1,000 hectares of land this spring.

“The release of land is the direct result of the work of the Farming Opportunities for New Entrants group, which I launched in December 2016 with the specific remit of developing farming opportunities for new entrants.

“With the average age of Scottish farmers at 58 years of age, attracting new entrants to farming is vital for the long-term sustainability of the industry. New entrants drive innovation and best practice, improve efficiencies and contribute towards the overall economic vitality of the sector.”

Fergus Ewing

Fergus Ewing Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity launching the fruit and veg action plan at the 2017 Royal Highland Show (photo Scot Gov)

Probably while you have been reading this you have pictured a male farmer.

Woman in first world war farmingWomen have always played a major role on Scotland’s farms. They were especially important during both World Wars as farm labourers.

A report into Women in Farming and the Agricultural Sector concluded that the custom of passing on large farms to one son is the ‘single biggest barrier to women’s entry into agriculture’.

Despite the essential role of women in the farming industry very few are represented in the leadership:

“over 1/3 of farm operators are women, the NFUS has no women amongst its national office holders, regional board chairmen or committee chairmen.” (correct at the date of the report’s publication)

Women are slightly better represented in the Scottish Crofting Federation. It is the intention that encouraging new entrants will also go someway to addressing the gender imbalance in the industry.

The report was the first of its kind in Scotland and made several recommendations including targeted training opportunities, quota systems for representative bodies, mentoring and farm succession planning.

Many people were grateful to farmers during The Beast Fae The East as they cleared roads and towed out stuck vehicles. If we are to thrive as a nation with freshly produced healthy food we will have to do more than be grateful to the farming industry.

Brexit will have a huge effect with accessing markets and workforce supply being just two major issues. Transformational changes  will take place in farming over the next ten years whether or not they will be for the better depends very much on the actions of the industry’s leadership and government.

What we can be certain of is that our food security must not be put at risk. It is,therefore, essential that the responsibility over the funding of farming remains the responsibility of the Government of Scotland where the needs of the Scottish industry will be better addressed.


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6 replies »

  1. Good piece Fiona but can I mention a previous ‘Beasr from the East – Hitler’, During the 30’s the Tories of the day championed the cheap import of food to the detriment of UK farmers and after 1939 ae the cheap food ships were sunk in ever increasing numbers the country almost starved and back in those days they were very grateful to Irish farmers filling some of the gaps. Europe also suffered food shortages and I always remember one of the founding principles of the EEC was that Europe would never again go short of homegrown food. Admitadlay it led to some anonomlies the infamous butter mountains and wine lakes but happily it has stabalised nowadays and this bunch of Tory ‘numpties’ are determined to take us backwards – NO THANKS.l

    • That was indeed what the support for farming was all about with the foundation of ‘The Common Market’ as we used to call it. In this I concentrated on farming but our fishing industry is part of our food security too.

      • Aye Fiona you are quite right of course but I’ll bet most youngsters know nothing about how the Tories nearly caused the country to be starved and many farmers to go bust.

  2. That is a very well-written piece, Fiona – pulling together a lot of ‘strings’.
    I noticed Helen’s recipe for a loaf, and thought what a good idea that was.
    So many strings to follow here – people only being able buy day to day – not being able to stock up. Habits of buying – I have come across an Orkney farmers wife, complaining because Tesco’s were out of neeps – in Orkney – buying neeps from a supermarket! And what would happen if the Tesco lorries stopped crossing the Penland Firth? If Tesco decides that we’re not worth it, economically? Some habits don’t die hard, and people get into ways of shopping, and cooking and eating, because they are easy – then what happens when all that ease, is no longer available?
    I’m ranting – you wrote a clear, concise piece, making many points and joining them all together, with proper research and information.
    Helen shows folk how to cook straight-forward meals using what’s available.
    ‘The Orkney News’ doing it’s community thing again.

    • Thanks Bernie, we can only do what we do because of our contributors and the support from our readers

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