MPs call for end to 'outdated method' of farm fund allocation

MPs argue that Brexit presents an opportunity to address failings in the agriculture funding formula
MPs argue that Brexit presents an opportunity to address failings in the agriculture funding formula

MPs have called on government to depart from the 'outdated method' of allocating farm funding which has 'failed' to reflect Scotland's unique agricultural conditions.

Westminster's Scottish Affairs Committee said a new system should be introduced where a nation's proportion of Less Favoured land is a central criterion in determining how much funding it receives.

In its final report on the future of Scottish agriculture, the committee argues that Brexit presents an opportunity to address failings in the agriculture funding formula, which has led to Scottish farms receiving low levels of funding.

It recommends that revising the funding formula would ensure that those farmers working in the most challenging environment receive the most support.

Doing so would lead to an increase in the proportion of the UK-wide agricultural funding allocated to Scotland.

The report also criticises the government’s pilot seasonal agriculture scheme for not providing enough workers to address Scotland’s agricultural workforce crisis.

It calls for an increase of 10,000 workers and to scrap application and visa interview fees to open the scheme to all motivated workers, not just those who can afford to apply.

Further, MPs also call on the government to address the challenges and opportunities presented by Brexit by setting agriculture budgets on a seven-year basis with a mid-point review to ensure it still meets the needs of Scottish farmers.

They also want the government to issue a joint statement with the Scottish government on the continuity of farm payments to give certainty for farmers.

Committee chairman Pete Wishart said: “Scotland has some of the most challenging farming environments in the UK and yet Scottish farming is the cornerstone of the Scottish food and drink industry, and farms and crofts remain central to many thriving communities.

“It is nonsensical that funding through the CAP has not recognised these challenging conditions, so my committee is calling on the UK government to take Brexit as an opportunity to rewrite the rules of agricultural funding.”

Mr Wishart added: “A country's environmental conditions and situation should be a central tenet of its funding settlement.

“If the UK government accepts this principle, Scotland will be likely to receive a significantly greater proportion of funding, allowing the agricultural sector to realise its full potential.”

The government is set to publish the recommendations of an independent review looking at how funding should be allocated post-Brexit.

A spokesman said: “For years, British farmers have been given a poor deal by the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, which is why we want to change things for the better.

“As the prime minister has said, once we are out of the EU, we will have a historic opportunity to introduce new schemes to support farmers - and we will make sure that Scotland gets a better deal.”