Director of Policy's Blog - 4 May 2020

When the nation’s thoughts turn to recovery, it is crystal clear that active farming and crofting have vital roles to play writes Director of Policy Jonnie Hall.

If we enable and promote active agriculture, and all that it delivers, it will make a significant and positive contribution to the health, social and economic well-being of Scotland.

That said, we must recognise that Scottish agriculture faces an array of political, socio-economic and environmental challenges but industry is up for it.  

The obvious existing challenges include Brexit and the issues around trade; people and future support; dysfunctional supply chains characterised by inequitable margins; and, the efficacy of current agricultural policy and the purpose, funding and delivery of future support.

Coronavirus rightly dominates, demanding immediate attention and action, but there are still chronic issues that Scottish agriculture faces.

And now, as we all adapt to the Covid-19 outbreak and governments’ responses to it and the stresses that it has placed on every aspect of life, it is very clear farming and the food supply chain are not immune.  

Covid-19 is a health, social and economic crisis. And the road to recovery must be a balance between these given that they are not mutually exclusive.

In the response phase alone, the mitigating measures from Westminster and Holyrood to tackle what is an extreme public health crisis have highlighted the fragility and interdependence of food production and consumption.

It is clear that existing supply chains are extremely vulnerable to major upheaval, and that different supply chains react in different ways. Whether it is a sudden shift in demand from food service sector to food retailer, or simply the fact that people cannot move freely, the capacity to adjust rapidly and without chaos and cost is seriously limited.

Lessons are already being learned, and recovery is likely to take many years.  Even then, it is certain that we will all have to operate in a very new and different ‘normal’.

Scottish agriculture and all that it underpins will have to change and adapt to what is and will be a very new operating environment. It will not be ‘business as usual’.

This will be very challenging, as markets and supply chains must adapt to survive and thrive, and agricultural support is realigned in light of tighter financial constraints and amended policy goals.

Public funding will inevitably be severely limited. Scottish agriculture will be asked to do more, such as even more efficient food production alongside delivering on climate ambitions.

We cannot forget Brexit either. With the UK and EU so absorbed by the health, social and economic implications of Covid-19, should we really be dogmatically clinging to the full separation by the end of this year?

But within all these challenges and uncertainties there lies opportunity too. The resetting and restarting of food production, processing and distribution, while meeting a raft of major government policy objectives, will provide the catalyst for change.

Change for the better. Change to address chronic issues. Change to adapt to acute challenges. Change to meet new expectations.

Taking the lead, NFU Scotland’s primary goal will be to secure a profitable and sustainable agricultural industry that meets society’s needs more than ever before.

The role of agriculture and the range of economic, environmental and social benefits it can deliver does and will vary, but collectively Scottish agriculture should do the following:

  • produce high quality food and products that its customers want.
  • embrace change to enhance productivity and create new market opportunities. 
  • lead the delivery of climate ambitions and a flourishing environment.
  • drive sustainable and diverse rural development to help rural economies prosper and communities thrive.

In pursing these objectives, NFU Scotland will place all farmers and crofters at the heart of Scotland’s recovery. As a first response, NFU Scotland has initiated four-point plans for different sectors of Scottish agriculture.

Each plan looks to establish specific objectives and associated actions for each of the policy phases of the Covid-19 outbreak and beyond – namely response, reset, restart and recovery.

Each sector of Scottish agriculture is different. If we didn’t know it already, the last few weeks has brought that sharply into focus.  Each set of objectives and actions is different; each farm and croft are different, but each can, and should, go through its own response, reset, restart and recovery process.

As Scotland begins to think and act to bring about recovery, it’s vital that all the interlinked cogs of the rural economy and agri-food supply chains keep moving.

The real prime mover, however, and the driver of both upstream economic activity as well as agri-food supply chains, is active agriculture.

Author: Jonnie Hall

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About The Author

Jonnie Hall

NFU Scotland’s Director of Policy Jonnie Hall has been involved with agricultural and rural policy for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne (BSc. Honours in Agricultural Economics and an M.Phil. in agricultural policy research) and Oxford University (MSc. in Agricultural Economics). Following an academic and consultancy career, Jonnie joined what was the Scottish Landowners’ Federation in January 1998, leading their policy work on agriculture and land use issues. Jonnie then joined NFU Scotland in May 2007, and has overall responsibility for the policy work of NFU Scotland as Director of Policy and Member Services. He has served on all key rural and agricultural policy stakeholder groups.

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