A decade ago we would never have thought that Scotland would be concerned about being able to supply its citizens with food. But that’s where we are now as Brexit bites, energy costs soar, prices rise and Russia’s blocking of agricultural exports from Ukraine continues.
The Scottish Government established a Food Security and Supply Taskforce to examine what effects the Russian invasion of Ukraine was having of food supplies to Scotland.
The taskforce concluded that immediate supplies of food and animal feed in Scotland are secure but it also made several recommendations. These include:
- The creation of a dedicated Food Security Unit within the Scottish Government.
- Supporting improved cash flow for individual businesses and farmers.
- A digital gateway, specifically for the food and drink sector, highlighting support available to businesses.
- The Scottish Government and Food Standards Scotland will seek to open engagement with the Groceries Adjudicator and the Competition and Markets Authority to ask them what scope they have to seek assurance and assess whether current behaviours in the food supply chain are working in the long-term interests of consumer choice, food security and retailers.
- To encourage the UK Government to look at how the “fair dealing” powers in their Agriculture Act 2020 might be used more broadly to ensure fair treatment of agricultural producers.
- Given the ongoing global turbulence, consideration will be given to the Taskforce meeting perhaps two more times this year, in a monitoring capacity.
- Scottish Government will also seek to engage with the UK Government, the EU and other international food security structures, including European Food Security Preparedness.
- Urging the UK Government to support the sector which includes addressing critical infrastructure issues, combatting acute post-Brexit skills shortages and addressing calls for further action on the soaring price of fuel and energy.
Rising Costs Hit Farmers and Crofters
The National Farmer’s Union (NFU) of Scotland has warned that crofters and farmers are scaling back production due to the increasing costs they are facing in fertiliser, fuel, energy, animal feed and wages.
Responding to the results of their own survey NFU Scotland President Martin Kennedy said:
“These results must serve as a wake-up call and move food security to the top of the political agenda. Reductions in agricultural production on this scale, if replicated across our whole industry, will have significant ramifications for our food and drink sector and all those businesses upstream and downstream who rely on farmers and crofters. Tens of thousands of jobs in the food and drink industry in Scotland are reliant on us having a critical mass of production to feed into our processing and manufacturing sector.
“The cost pressure on farmers and crofters is intense, causing high levels of uncertainty with any increases in farmgate prices for our produce failing to keep pace with the unprecedented surge in prices for all our key inputs.
“We welcome Scottish Government’s recent decision to agree to our request to bring forward the support payment schedule originally set for mid-October to September. Payment in full into bank accounts at that time will provide farmers and crofters with some cash flow certainty and relief this autumn. (Scottish Farm Payments Brought Forward)
“However, we also know that many businesses are having to reassess their finances at this time, with the majority of survey respondents giving consideration to a combination of extending overdraft facilities; seeking new loan arrangements; looking to diversified incomes or dipping into savings to keep the business going.
“These are very challenging times financially and NFU Scotland has met twice with all major clearing banks in recent weeks to discuss.”
Orkney Constituency MSP Liam McArthur, LibDem said:
“The exponential rise in feed, fuel and fertiliser costs over recent months is already having serious long-term implications for production in the farming sector, as well as for the overall viability for many farm businesses. Increased input costs are also having a serious impact on the fishing industry with some boats being forced to tie-up altogether.
“Given the scale of these challenges, the taskforce is right to recommend new structures in government to better monitor risks, increase resilience and respond more rapidly to future issues. Moreover, recommendations on improved cash flow and access to support will be critical in the months ahead.
“Scottish Ministers must now move at pave to deliver these recommendations and seek to cooperate more closely on a four-nation and international basis.”
Supporting Farming and Food Security
The Food Security and Supply Taskforce was set up jointly between the Scottish Government and the food and drink industry,
Chief Executive of Scotland Food and Drink James Withers said:
“The rapid response by Scottish Government in establishing this taskforce has been important. I sincerely hope we see the same focus emerge at UK level. Whilst immediate food and feed supplies are secure, for many businesses in the food and drink supply chain, the financial and operational pressure is as challenging as it has ever been. If the situation deteriorates further, we may need to consider other interventions.”
At The Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh last week First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced major investment of more than £200 million through the 2022 to 2027 Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Strategic Research Programme (SRP) to boost food security in Scotland and address the biodiversity and climate crises
The Scottish Government is one of the largest funders of agri-environmental research in the UK, and will provide funding with a focus on strategic environment, natural resources and agriculture research .
Aberdeen University’s Rowett Institute has had a funding boost from the Scottish Government of £25 million over five years.
The funding will support some 35 projects across a variety of topics including developing crop science and sustainability, tackling climate change and global food inequality and insecurity. It will also see the Rowett continue to be part of SEFARI, the Scottish Environment, Food and Agriculture Research Institutes, a consortium of six globally renowned research institutes
Director of the Rowett Institute Professor Jules Griffin said:
“Receiving this huge amount of funding is fantastic news to celebrate not just for the University but for the city of Aberdeen, the north-east area and beyond.
“It is a hugely exciting time for the Rowett as we plan the next five years. Food is at the forefront of everyone’s mind as the cost of living rises. Our specialist researchers are looking at how world events such as Covid and Brexit impact on people and the food we buy and consume in a week.
“I am extremely pleased the Scottish Government has once again shown its commitment to scientific research into such a vital area as nutrition.
“This continued funding will allow us, alongside our collaborators, to build on the huge gains that have already been made in understanding the complexity and intertwined issues that arise between agriculture, environment and human health.
“The Rowett Institute has led landmark studies of diet and health for more than 100 years and is well placed to take forward research on how to achieve a healthy and sustainable diet as well as how to improve the health benefits of the food products we produce.”
Thanking all those who had taken part in the Food Security Taskforce, Rural Affairs Secretary in the Scottish Government Mairi Gougeon said:
“The rapid establishment of our Taskforce – which is the first within the UK – and the creation of new food security structures should offer assurances that government and industry will be in a position to react as quickly as possible to any future shocks.
“I would like to thank all those involved in the Taskforce for their support. It is in this collaborative spirit that we must now move forward.”