By Fiona Grahame
Amongst 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.
The 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.
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.”
Probably while you have been reading this you have pictured a male farmer.
Women 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.