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Cabinet Secretary challenged to deliver on immediate and long-term food security crisis

Cabinet Secretary Mairi Gougeon (left) with NFU Scotland's President Martin Kennedy (right)

NFU Scotland has challenged Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs Mairi Gougeon to put future policy options for Scotland’s farmers and crofters in the public domain.

With soaring input costs driving the food security crisis, the Union also called on the Cabinet Secretary to update the food and farming sector on what the dedicated food security unit in Scotland is doing and what information that unit is providing to the UK Government on the depth of the crisis here.

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Members of the board reported on all sectors in Scotland – livestock, dairy, horticulture, cereals, pigs and poultry – and the impacts of soaring input costs with clear indications that some are already scaling back, and livelihoods are at risk.

Speaking after the meeting, President Martin Kennedy said: “Last week’s launch of the consultation on the Agriculture Bill was an open goal for Scottish Government to put future policy options, including direct support plans to reward activity, on the table for discussion by farmers and crofters and they missed it by a mile.”

“The industry is suffering a crisis of confidence and deserve clarity on the direction of travel towards a new policy in 2025.  There is a yawning policy gap that our members and other stakeholders want to see filled now and Scottish Government needs to start doing more of the heavy lifting on this hugely important subject.”

“I fully accept that this Bill is about the powers necessary to deliver primary legislation, but the industry needs to see future policy options, and these must be on the table now. This consultation was poorly communicated when the industry should already be discussing how precious support will be made available so that we can build some confidence.  The Cabinet Secretary must turn that around.”

“The industry is reeling from a relentless succession of shocks on costs. Diesel prices have doubled, fertiliser prices have trebled, electricity costs are five times higher and, from next week, carbon dioxide prices are forecast to increase 21-fold.  There are elements of the Scottish food and drink sector facing significant restructuring or closure on the Cabinet Secretary’s watch while consumers are counting the cost at the till.” 

“The penny hasn’t dropped with Scottish or UK Governments on the impact cost are having.  A dedicated food security unit within Scottish Government was announced in June.  That was a chance to get ahead of the game on understanding the impact of costs on our whole food and drink sector, including the shop shelf, but here we are in September, and the crisis is deepening.”

“That crisis remains deepest in our pig sector where sow numbers are already thought to have fallen by more than 20 percent in Scotland.  Scottish Government has supported our pork processing sector with investment at Brechin and with a hardship scheme for those farmers supplying the plant.” 

“However, we have presented the Cabinet Secretary with proposals for an ‘ongoers’ scheme that would allow our pig producers to restructure the unprecedented levels of debt they have built up trying to keep afloat.  That proposal remains on the Cabinet Secretary’s desk without a decision while we run the risk of losing critical mass in that sector.”

“On all these issues, we look to the Cabinet Secretary to take important decisions immediately so all our producers can plan for the future.”

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