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Driving forward policy progress for the arable sector

This year has been challenging for Scotland’s arable sector due to Brexit, Covid-19 and, less unusually, the weather writes Combinable Crops Committee Chairman Willie Thomson.  

He states: “Growers have met those challenges and produced a bigger harvest than expected - but that too has caused problems.



“When harvest came, there were more quality issues than normal including higher rejections for germination as well as skinning.  Growers saw many loads of barley going for feed rather than malting.  And some reported being paid below feed barley prices for loads accepted for malting.

We raised concerns on these issues with the grain trade.  In discussions, there was agreement that current methods of assessing germination and skinning are problematic, being done by eye from small samples from each grain load.  The issue of price transparency was also discussed.  Malting barley is our premium crop, but many growers are finding the risks of rejection too great.

Brexit brings uncertainty but offers the potential for Scotland to decide how it deals with many issues.  At recent meetings with the Scottish Government we have discussed aspects of that.

At one, we focused on the Sustainable Agriculture Capital Grant Scheme (SACGS).  Despite the crop sector being faced with climate change and other environmental challenges, there were few capital items on the list to help the sector adapt.  

It was hard to see green justification for several supported capital items and the Scottish Government’s decision to not tell applicants the green point allocation in advance was bizarre.  

They seemed not to see the benefit of farmers choosing to invest in items best for the environment.  We can only hope that the message got through that green schemes need to focus on investments that help farmers - in all sectors - to become more efficient in their use of resources.

The second meeting was on how the crop sector is represented in the development of Scottish Government policy.  Recognising a gap, SASA (Science & Advice for Scottish Agriculture) has been passed responsibility for crop policy.  That is good news, with SASA’s history being rooted in good science and facts rather than politics.  In a very positive discussion, we raised a sizeable list of policy areas with SASA that need attention.

One is the regulation of plant protection products.  The current EU system has become heavily politicised, with the shift from being based on hazard rather than risk making no sense.  

Also, climate change means that we should not ignore the benefits of pesticides, reducing the use of other inputs per tonne of output - we still need to produce crops to meet market demand while we cut emissions.  

New Breeding Techniques is another – and I do not mean GM.  The European Court of Justice’s view that they should all be regulated in the same way is wrong and blocks the path to speed up development of new varieties to help us meet the challenges presented by climate change.

On support, the Scottish Government needs to use its own farm income data to see that the crop sector will need financial assistance to shift away from fossil fuels. Grants for energy efficient crop storage and for drainage would be a great help.  

Fair allocation of convergence money rather than using it to fund other budget gaps is another concern.  

On Greening, clear thinking is needed to avoid conflicts in aims.  An example was how changes to the rules for nitrogen fixing crops undid the encouragement that had been given to grow protein crops.

In our view, SASA also needs to be involved in wider policy development.  As an example, we were very disappointed that those behind the development of Regional Land Use Partnerships seem to have given no thought to the crop sector.

With new channels to influence policy opening, the excellent news is that our discussions with Scottish Government and SASA will be ongoing as we make our way to a new policy framework.

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Andrew Moir

57 days ago

Well done Willie, good to see SASA and good science front and centre. Andrew
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