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Eddie Gillanders: Farming and food get scant mention in First Minister Humza Yousaf's speech

By Eddie Gillanders

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There was scant reference to the importance of agriculture and food production to Scotland’s economy in First Minister Humza Yousaf’s speech to the Scottish Parliament announcing the government’s legislative programme for the next year.

First Minister Humza Yousaf's speech contained only paragraphs about farming.
First Minister Humza Yousaf's speech contained only paragraphs about farming.

Tackling poverty and growing the economy are commendable objectives but the rural economy merited only three short paragraphs in his long list of priorities.

“We are also helping the rural economy,” he declared. “In the coming year we will help to create a new framework for rural support through the Agriculture Bill. We will promote our food and drink industry and press the UK government to honour its obligations to our fishing sector.”

Then came the old chestnut. “When it comes to Scotland’s land, it is clear too much land is in the hands of too few. Our Land Reform Bill will make land ownership more transparent and will also give communities more opportunities to own land.

“We will step up to the challenge. We will seek to be bold and radical and we will continue to develop proposals for crofting law reform.”

This has brought the predictable response from the land owners’ organisation, Scottish Land and Estates.

“It is frustrating that the Scottish Government is diverting limited resources into an ideologically-driven Land Reform Bill instead of prioritising support for businesses and communities across rural Scotland,” said SLE chief executive, Sarah-Jane Laing.

“Further land reform is an unnecessary distraction to the really important issues of growing the rural economy and meeting the challenge of achieving net zero by 2045.”

Nor did the First Minister’s speech make any reference to the five key areas for future farming policy highlighted by NFU Scotland president, Martin Kennedy, in a letter to Mr Yousaf ahead of the new parliamentary session.

Mr Kennedy called for food production to be at the heart of agricultural policy, a ring-fenced commitment to future funding, commitment to a “Scotland first” policy for local food sourcing and an urgent review of the regulatory burden on Scotland’s agricultural sector.

The importance the Scottish Government places on agriculture can be gauged from yet another disgraceful delay in the long-promised Agriculture Bill which was set in motion in consultation with the industry three years ago by the then Rural Affairs Cabinet Secretary and now arch-critic of the government, Fergus Ewing, SNP MSP for Inverness and Nairn.

His successor, Marie Gougeon, has been promising publication of the bill after countless consultations in September but it’s unlikely to appear this month.

“The First Minister’s commitment to support the five areas we have highlighted is of vital importance to secure a sustainable, resilient and profitable agricultural sector for Scotland and we look forward to working with the First Minister to achieve that,” said Mr Kennedy.

“The Scottish Government has an unprecedented opportunity through its policy and legislative programme to support Scotland’s farming industry to producing the food the country needs, accelerate our efforts to address climate change, support biodiversity recovery and, critically, continue to be the economic and social lifeblood of rural communities.”

Scottish Conservative shadow rural affairs secretary, Rachael Hamilton, described the government’s legislative programme as “pitifully thin on the ground for rural Scotland.”

“Our farmers, crofters and agriculture sector have been badly let down once again,” said Ms Hamilton.

“Farmers and crofters deserved to hear some meat on the bone on what future support will look like when the Agriculture Bill is finally brought to the Scottish Parliament.

“The failure to deliver will risk Scotland’s food security and force us into relying on costly imported foods.”

Meantime, Mr Kennedy and the union’s director of policy, Jonnie Hall, have had an online meeting with the Competitions and Marketing Authority to discuss the record profits reported by key fertiliser suppliers last year.

The three biggest suppliers – CF Industries, Yara and Origin Enterprises – made a combined net profit of £5.45 billion, up from £909 million the previous year.

“These eye-watering profits were secured during a period when farmers faced unprecedented prices at the farmgate for fertiliser,” said Mr Kennedy.

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