£51m package to help Scottish farmers be more sustainable

A National Test Programme will begin next spring, with up to £51m of investment over the following three years
A National Test Programme will begin next spring, with up to £51m of investment over the following three years

The Scottish government has announced a £51 million package to help farmers transition to a new agricultural policy with sustainability at the heart of it.

The package, announced on Thursday (28 October), will assist farmers through 2022 to 2024 to transition to a system of sustainable agriculture that aims to reduce emissions and enhance biodiversity.

The National Test Programme is a twin track approach made up of two components: Track One is to encourage farmers to improve their knowledge of current environmental performance and efficiency.

It will allow those in receipt of a basic agricultural support payment to make a start in addressing greenhouse gas emissions reduction for their businesses.

This will include public support for carbon audits and Nutrient Management Plans and the establishment of a Livestock Data Performance Feedback Scheme.

Track Two is to design and test the tools and process necessary to reward land managers for the climate and biodiversity outcomes they deliver.

This will evaluate how measuring environmental performance of farms will be managed in future and include the creation of a Conditionality Test Programme and an Active Livestock Management initiative for suckler beef farms.

When making the announcement, Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon confirmed that Scottish government does not support policies that promote reducing livestock numbers and that support payment rates will be maintained throughout the transition.

The Cabinet Secretary outlined the National Test Programme as she addressed the AGM of NFU Scotland on Thursday.

She told farmers: "You have played such a key role in our past and you are vital to our future. We will not successfully address the twin crises of climate change and nature without you.

“We are embarking on a journey of transformation. There will be challenges on the way, there are risks, and there will be tough decisions to be made by us all, but there are also huge opportunities if we want to make them and take them.

“We can be global leaders in sustainable agriculture – we can set the global benchmark for what regenerative agriculture actually means.

“We will produce more of our food more sustainably, we will deliver climate mitigation and adaptation, we will restore nature and protect and enhance biodiversity."

Welcoming the announcement, NFU Scotland President Martin Kennedy thanked the Cabinet Secretary for reiterating her commitment that there will be no policy to reduce livestock numbers in Scotland.

"One of the reasons I agreed to sit on the ARIOB [Agriculture Reform Implementation Oversight Board] was to make sure this did not happen, so finally putting that to bed is important," he said.

“I welcome the £51m package to assist the industry in defining a baseline of where we are at present on individual farms and crofts.

"This will not only give us an individual picture of where we are starting from, it will also give us a national picture which will confirm that we are already starting from a good place in Scotland.

"This baselining will also inform the decisions we need to make in the future which in turn will showcase Scottish food production as being a major part of the solution to climate change and biodiversity, not the problem."