A busy week in politics, but time to focus on Ag Bill consultation

A busy week in politics, but time to focus on Ag Bill consultation

Politics returned with a bang this week after a period of national mourning to mark the passing of Queen Elizabeth II.

In Westminster, the focus was on the new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, and her new Chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, who announced the biggest programme of tax cuts since 1972.

Here, we await the Scottish Government response to the ‘mini-Budget’ – given powers over income tax and stamp duty are devolved.

What we do know is that there will be an increase in the block grant to Holyrood of about £635m, spread over the next three years.

That sounds like a lot of money, but First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will face calls for parity on taxation with the rest of the UK, demands for public sector pay rises in line with inflation, an over-stretched NHS, and an expectation of action to combat the cost-of-living crisis.

Agriculture, like every other sector, faces enormous cost pressures – on top of significant challenges linked to Brexit, Covid and the Ukraine war.

Next steps on future agricultural policy

Amidst all of this, the future direction of rural policy in Scotland feels like an issue of secondary importance, at best.

However, it is more important than ever that farmers, crofters, growers – in fact, anyone with an interest in our food system – engages with the government consultation on a new Agriculture Bill.

The consultation was launched last month and is open until November 21. Eight face-to-face workshops are being held across the country – with the first in Inverness on October 5th.

It builds upon the Vision for Agriculture, published in March this year, outlining an ambition for Scotland to become “a global leader in sustainable and regenerative agriculture”.

The Agriculture Bill is expected to be introduced in the second half of next year, and the responses to the consultation will inform the content of the Bill, including the future payment framework.

The full consultation paper can be read here, but the proposals are for a four-tier system. Tier 1 and 2 will be direct payments, with a base payment conditional upon agreed standards to ensure climate, biodiversity and business efficiency outcomes. Tier 3 and 4 are indirect payments, with Tier 3 focusing on targeted measures for nature restoration and Tier 4 on complimentary support, including advisory services, peatland restoration and woodland creation.

The case for mainstreaming organics and agroforestry

While we encourage all licensees and supporters to complete the consultation, we will not tell you how to respond.

However, there are specific areas that Soil Association Scotland is focusing our policy efforts on.

We would like organic farming to feature more prominently in the Scottish Government plans. There is strong scientific evidence showing the benefits in terms of emissions reductions and biodiversity gains. Mainstreaming organic farming practices would help the Scottish Government meet its climate change and nature restoration targets, as well as delivering on the Vision for Agriculture.

There is also a strong case for integrating more trees into farming and crofting systems. We have carried out economic modelling on agroforestry systems in Scotland, based on different planting and payment scenarios. The future payment system must incentivise and support tree planting – not as an add-on, but as a key management option to restore nature and improve farm business resilience.

There is also a major role for farm advisory services, knowledge transfer and investment in innovation to encourage a transition to more agroecological and organic approaches that will be essential if the target to reduce emissions from agriculture by 31% by 2032 is to be met.

We will be putting our detailed consultation response together in the coming weeks and will provide an update in the next email newsletter.

What you can do

Please engage with the consultation and attend the workshop events if you can. They are taking place as follows: