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Delivering on a 'Good Food Nation'

Delivering on a 'Good Food Nation'

February seems to have flown by, but it has been a busy period in the Scottish Parliament, particularly in relation to food and farming.

The long-awaited National Good Food Plan was published at the beginning of the month and will be subject to a 12-week public consultation. The plan for the future of the food system in Scotland sets out the government’s goals for food policy and outlines how it intends to deliver on the ‘Good Food Nation’ ambition.

Meanwhile, MSPs on the Rural Affairs and Islands Committee continued their scrutiny of the Agriculture and Rural Communities (Scotland) Bill, which included an evidence session with the Cabinet Secretary Mairi Gougeon.

And First Minister Humza Yousaf took the stage at the NFU Scotland conference in Glasgow and confirmed that the majority – at least 70% – of the agricultural budget will be paid in direct payments to farmers and crofters from 2026 onwards. This has followed a great deal of debate about how best to use approximately £600m a year in public money to meet the government’s own climate and nature targets.

First Minister Humza Yousaf


First, the National Good Food Plan

Ministers were required to produce the plan under the terms of the Good Food Nation Act, which was passed by the Scottish Parliament in July 2022 with cross-party support.

Soil Association Scotland previously set out the ‘key asks’ of what we wanted to see in the plan, and we will be responding in detail to the consultation.

We are encouraging our organic licensees, local authority partners, charity members and supporters to have their say as well.

Our first impression of the National Good Food Plan was that at 8o+ pages, it is a lengthy document, but a little short on clear action points for change.

There are, however, six clear outcomes that government wants to deliver. These can be read here, and cover a range of important areas including access to food, environmental sustainability and public health.

Within those outcomes, there are a number of ‘indicators’ that can help to drive progress. We were very pleased to see that uptake of the Soil Association Food for Life programme is listed as an indicator in two of the six outcomes. Half of Scotland’s local authorities are ahead of the game and already hold a Food for Life Served Here award, but amidst challenging budget pressures caterers must be supported and resourced accordingly. We’ve written previously about the importance of investing in school food, both at a national and local level, and our Food for Life Scotland team are on hand to provide free support to achieve and maintain these standards.

We also welcomed multiple references to existing government commitments around organic farming, with recognition of the environmental benefits delivered by organic production.

A reality check

There is no question that all farmers and crofters are facing huge challenges at the moment, with rising costs, extreme weather, unfairness in the supply chain and uncertainty over future government policy.

One example highlighted in the Press and Journal newspaper this week showed the impact that this can have directly on food production.

Soil Association licensee Jo Hunt, who runs a veg box scheme and croft at Knockfarrel Produce near Dingwall, made the difficult decision not to grow anything this year due to crippling increases in feed and energy costs, the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on customer incomes and a lack of support from government.

Jo Hunt, Knockfarrel Produce

The reality is that small producers like Jo – who are feeding a significant number of families in their local area – are not well supported by the current funding system.

That is one of the reasons why Soil Association, along with the Scottish Crofting Federation, Nature Friendly Farming Network, Propagate and Landworkers Alliance, are calling for the Scottish Government to emulate the EU and redistribute at least 10% of the direct payment budget to better support small farms and crofts by frontloading payments for the first hectares.

This is just one part of what is required to deliver on the Scottish Government’s agendas for ‘sustainable and regenerative agriculture’ and ‘Good Food Nation’. There is a balance to be struck, where farms of all sizes do their bit for climate and nature.

Future payments

That brings us to the First Minister’s speech to the NFUS conference. Despite his assurances that the bulk of funds will remain in direct payments – the opposite of what is happening in England where BPS is being phased out – there are still plenty of questions to be answered.

For example, until we know the outcome of the general election, we still don’t know what the overall budget for agriculture will be in Scotland for next year, let alone 2026.

And the ‘direct payments’ are changing from what farmers have become accustomed to receiving as BPS. New conditions will be applied to at least 50% of the payments, meaning farmers will have to take a range of actions to reduce emissions and improve biodiversity before they receive the full payment. The Scottish Government published a list of potential options in February last year, but we still don’t know exactly what will be required, how compliance will be measured and monitored or exactly how the budget will be split between Tier 1 and Tier 2 of the new framework.

And there remains some confusion about the future iteration of LFASS (Less Favoured Area Support Scheme). Mr Yousaf indicated it would fall into Tier 2 of the new support framework, so presumably subject to enhanced conditions, but it was unclear whether this will be included as part of the 70% of the budget for direct payments (LFASS accounts for about 10% of the budget) or whether it is in addition to that 70%. If it is the former, that would free up about £60m that could be spent on supporting organic farmers, integrating more trees on farms, restoring peatland, providing farm advice and funding for knowledge exchange and innovation.

So a lot still to come, and a lot more joined up thinking to be done between food policy and agriculture policy to deliver a fairer, more sustainable food system.