Designing appropriate support schemes for agriculture has never been straightforward. The Scottish Government is currently trying to balance competing demands of climate concerns (with agriculture said to contribute around one quarter of Scotland’s greenhouse gas emissions) with the desire to maintain high quality local food production.
High level policy from the Vision for Agriculture is now being translated into more concrete plans by way of the Agricultural Reform Route Map, first published in February 2023 and more detail on which was announced at the Royal Highland Show in June. We now know more about the “essential standards” farmers will be expected to meet to qualify for ongoing support, with the Scottish Government committing to no cliff-edge changes in support mechanisms.
Recap – how support will change
We already knew that the two-pillar system of direct payments (Basic Payment Scheme) and rural development payments is planned to transition to a four-tier system, of Base, Enhanced, Elective and Complementary support. The new system will begin in 2026, with transitional changes beginning in 2025, introducing new requirements to qualify for direct payments in 2025.
Farmers must currently undertake minimum standards of activity in order to qualify for direct payments. From 2025, farmers will have to meet additional “essential standards” and those requirements will then flow through to the new four-tier system. The new standards are:
- Foundations of a Whole Farm Plan – a suggestion from the farmer-led groups tasked with proposals to address climate change, a Whole Farm Plan proposes all actions be considered in the context of the whole farm. “Foundations” include soil testing, carbon and biodiversity audits, animal health and welfare declarations and supported business planning.
- Peatland and Wetland Protection – farmers are expected to commit to protections for these areas, with a view to restoring them and sequestering carbon; further detail is awaited.
- Scottish Suckler Beef Support Scheme – new conditions will be implemented relating to calving intervals, aiming to cut emissions intensity and increase production efficiency; further detail is awaited.
Support available now
The Scottish Government is encouraging early interaction with the new standards through the Preparing for Sustainable Farming funding scheme, primarily targeted towards the whole farm plan measures. Funding is available for carbon audits; soil analysis for arable and improved grassland; and interventions designed to improve the health and welfare of stock, along with access to herd data software for cattle keepers. The programme runs until 2025 and Scottish Government officials will be visiting marts across Scotland throughout the autumn to further publicise and inform farmers about the programme.
If you would like to discuss available Agricultural support schemes further, please get in touch with a member of our Land & Rural Business team.