The future of Scottish agriculture post-Brexit Contents


Scottish agriculture is at the forefront of the food and drink industry, which is worth over £3.18 billion to the Scottish economy and supports over 75,000 businesses in Scotland. The UK’s departure from the EU will mean for the first time in decades Scotland’s agricultural policies will not be set within the framework of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). This presents new opportunities for policies which reflect Scotland’s needs, but also new challenges with possible changes to tariffs as well as reduced access to labour.

Leaving the CAP provides an opportunity to revisit how farm support is distributed within the nations of the UK. We call on the government to depart from the outdated method of allocating funding on the basis of historic values, which has failed to reflect Scotland’s unique agricultural conditions and practices and introduce a new system where a nation’s proportion of Less Favoured land is a central criterion in determining how much funding it receives. This would ensure that those farmers and crofters working in the most challenging environment receive the most support and be likely to lead to an increase in the proportion of the agricultural budget allocated to Scotland.

After Brexit, the Scottish Government must have at least the same flexibility over agricultural payments and policy as it currently does. We therefore welcome the UK Government’s assurance that Scottish specific farming support, like coupled payments, will be able to continue under the UK’s new WTO commitments and that agricultural common frameworks will not be imposed but agreed by consensus between the two governments. However, there’s been a lack of detail about what those common frameworks will contain and a worrying confusion about whether the Scottish Government has the power to continue to make support payments to farmers after Brexit. We recommend that the UK Government publish its draft agricultural frameworks and, alongside the Scottish Government, issue a joint statement on the future of farm payments.

Scotland’s agricultural sector is highly dependent on non-UK labour. However, it has faced increasing difficulties in recruiting sufficient labour in recent years, which is likely to get worse when EU free movement ends, leading to concerns about produce being left to rot in fields. The Government has responded by piloting a new Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme. While this is welcome, 2,500 workers a year will be incapable of meeting Scottish agriculture’s labour needs let alone the rest of the UK. To ensure there is an adequate supply of workers, the Government must increase the pilot to 10,000 workers, expand it to cover more sectors and commit to a permanent version of the scheme from 2020.

The Government is keen that all sectors, including agriculture, look to technology to reduce their reliance on foreign labour. While we believe there are major limits to the extent technology can replace labour in the agricultural sector, it can play a key role in improving productivity more generally. We recommend that the Government use its research and development budget to encourage new technologies and innovations to be developed with their practical application in mind, with bids for UK agricultural research having to include proposals for trialling and demonstrating the technologies they produce.

Published: 31 July 2019