Opportunity offered by RLUPs – Caroline Millar’s Blog – 17 August 2020

The creation of Regional Land Use Partnerships is a very hot topic and one which could present opportunities writes Caroline Millar from Balkello Farm, Auchterhouse – home of the award-winning Hideaway Experience tourist accommodation.   

Caroline writes: I am currently serving my first year on the Legal and Technical Committee at NFU Scotland and from my point of view, as a diversified farmer, I have listened with interest to the committee discussion.   

For some NFUS members, the concept of an additional overarching body with a statutory function relating to administering rural funding, is a scary one.

I also understand why hearing the Scottish Land Commission, which is entrenched in land reform politics, talk about a ‘step change’ in discussions around land use makes farmers extremely uncomfortable. Uncertainty is never helpful in farming and at the end of the day we have a business to run.

That said, we must not allow it to cloud our viewpoint or limit our ability to grasp what is undoubtably a fantastic opportunity for farmers in Scotland.   

There is no doubt that we need to get better at getting across our key messages about what we do, how we do it and why we do it to a wider audience. In general, the public does not have a great understanding of farming, and if we keep them at arm’s length this will not change.

The proposed governance structure for Partnerships includes sectoral interests and it is essential that practical farmers are willing to get stuck in.  There is a great opportunity here to engage firsthand with policy makers and the wider community in our local areas.

It is proposed that Regional Land Use Partnerships will relate to Local Authority areas and cover all of Scotland.  At the heart of these proposed Partnerships is the idea of being smarter about how we use land and how we collaborate with others to ensure that we can achieve landscape scale business benefits.  

My husband and I run a 5 star couples retreat on our family farm near Dundee and we welcome around two thousand guests each year who not only spend money with us, but buy a lot of local food and drink, eat out in restaurants and cafes and buy exclusive experiences. We employ eight part-time and full-time staff across the tourism and a consultancy business. Having these other rural businesses allows us to link into other sectors that we might not normally have relationships with as farmers.

For agritourism, there may be farmers who don’t want to get involved themselves but who have a perfect part of rough hill ground or a redundant building that an external tourism business could use to base their business.

This is not a common occurrence in Scotland at the moment but a farmer getting a rent for redundant assets by a 3rd party who can make a real go of a new enterprise on the farm, with no farmer involvement, is a real opportunity for the rural economy and is one example of something which could be driven forward by the Regional Land Use Partnerships. Having an extra £10,000 to your bottom line for not much effort has to be an attractive prospect.

It is also proposed that Partnerships can tap into alternative sources of finance. This is something which could be a huge boost to rural Scotland and which I welcome. Rural support budgets are under increasing pressure, so real business-oriented alternatives from wider sources could be a real game changer for farmers who really want to add value to what they do.  

As farmers, we are in a unique position in rural Scotland and I don’t think we should undersell what we do or underestimate what we could do better.

We should be constantly reviewing to improve and we need to be better at embracing positive change.

Rural Land Use Partnerships present an exciting opportunity for us to work better together within industry, be more targeted with support and really show why farming is the cornerstone of rural Scotland.

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