In October 2021 the Scottish Government announced plans to implement a National Test Programme commencing in spring 2022, as part of its vision for Scottish agriculture in a post-CAP and post-COP26 world.
The Government’s overarching aim is to pass a new Agricultural Bill and for replacement framework and legislation to be in place for implementation in 2026. This framework should support agricultural businesses to produce high quality food, while mitigating against climate change and restoring natural environments.
Recruitment of farmers and crofters took place earlier this year and with Spring now sprung we have a further statement from Holyrood which provides more detail on the National Test Programme and also on the overall vision. The test programme will take a twin track approach, with Track One set to increase farmers’ knowledge and awareness of their farm’s existing environmental performance and efficiency. Farmers will be supported and incentivised to put in place measures to create a solid foundation of information and understanding of sustainable agriculture on their farm, which can then be shared with others in the industry.
The second part of the programme, Track Two, will focus on the tools, support and processes that will be required to measure performance in achieving environmental goals. In the new framework there will undoubtedly be new environmental-orientated conditions that will apply to future payment schemes. So, Track Two will look to assess what those conditions could be; how to apply them to payment schemes; and how, in practice, to best measure and record outcomes achieved by farms. It is an open question what those conditions will be, but the most recent government statement does detail key themes which they expect to apply, namely:
- greenhouse gas emissions
- biodiversity audits
- soil testing
- nutrient and forage plans
- animal health and welfare plans
There is to be a phased approach to rolling out measures to current recipients of support payments starting this year with the aim that the measures become mandatory for accessing at least half of payments under current payment schemes. No exact timelines for this are mentioned in the statement, however.
Interestingly, the statement mentions that the Government is considering the role that area Rural Payments and Inspections Division offices might play as one stop shops in providing advice, information and support online and on the ground. There is also further confirmation that alignment with new EU measures and policy development will be sought wherever practicable.
There is clearly further information to come. This will be welcomed, particularly regarding Track Two, in order to ensure farms have as much time to prepare and develop, prior to new measures and conditions coming into force.
Looking forward, consultation on the new Agricultural Bill is due to begin this Summer and we will provide further updates once the consultation paper is published.
Clearly, this is a period of huge transition for Scottish agriculture and the form that the framework and legislation will take will have a significant effect on farms and other rural businesses. If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this article or need general advice at this time, please get in touch.