Cropping and arable farmers are facing a new era

Scotland’s cropping and arable farmers could be set to enter a new era which will allow them to meet the challenges of the marketplace and tackle environmental issues including climate change, it has been claimed.

With the sector moving outside the ‘one-size-fits-all’ regulatory regime which the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy placed on the sector, NFU Scotland believes that the ability to vary from these rules, which came with the UK’s exit from the EU in the new year, will allow policy to be better tailored to the country’s needs.

The union’s combinable crops committee chairman Willie Thomson said that there had already been alterations to the Greening requirements for 2021, with the removal of the crop diversification requirements under the three crop rule.

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This, he said, was targeted at the sort of monoculture seen in some parts of the EU but not Scotland.

“Three years ago, in the Union’s ‘Steps to Change’ document, we set out a list of more appropriate alternatives to the blanket EU measures that we believe would be better for Scotland. We will look to build momentum on these with Scottish Government early in the new year,” said Thomson.

And he added that with Glasgow set to host the UN Climate Change conference in the autumn, Scotland’s crop sector stood ready to engage on how to meet targets while still producing food for a growing population.

He went on to add that the union welcomed the recognition by the Scottish government in its recently updated climate change plan that producing food remained a vital role for Scottish agriculture.

Thomson said: “During an emergency when time is short, as it is with climate change, it is vital to avoid blind alleys.”

He said decisions need to be objective and should assess and take account of the risk/benefit of every measure.

“That should apply to the use of existing and new technology in the crop sector, including plant protection products and plant breeding techniques,” he warned.

He added that an impact assessment which looked at the risk/benefit ratio would involve seeking and accepting advice which was scientifically sound and practical – an approach amply demonstrated by the current Covid-19 pandemic.

“The crop sector welcomes recent positive steps in that direction with the formation of the Climate Change Group for the crop sector chaired by Andrew Moir and the signing of the Tay City Deal.

"That will provide vital funding to the James Hutton Institute at Invergowrie including the International Barley Hub. Full advantage must be taken of Scottish scientific expertise in crop production.”

But he added that while the urgency of addressing climate change now had been recognised, both the government and consumers had to also to recognise that the cost of revolutionary changes to the food production systems would be massive – and could not be borne by farmers alone.

“If that does not happen, crop output here will fall and imports increase – and imports of crops means exporting the carbon emissions involved in their production.”