It will be 2024 before Scottish farmers see any changes to agricultural policy if Rural Secretary Fergus Ewing gets his way.
Mr Ewing told Scottish meat wholesalers at a conference in Glasgow that he wanted to see a transition period of five years beyond the end of Brexit negotiations in 2019, making it seven years before farmers need to adapt to a new world order.
He said the present schemes were so complicated it would be “utterly impossible” to bring in a brand new policy in less than two years, far less to administer it.
And he admitted: “I have to say we’re having trouble enough administering the current scheme, never mind replacing it with a brand new one. I’ll be quite candid about that.”
Mr Ewing said he had told UK Farming Minister George Eustice that he wanted transitional arrangements which would involve the continuation of existing schemes – with some amendments – in order to provide “clarity and certainty” for farmers and crofters .
And he called on members of the Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers (SAMW), the farmers’ union and Quality Meat Scotland to work with him to “buttress” his view that continued Government support was essential.
He added: “You have the facts to demonstrate we need a period of five years where there will be a continuance of the current regime. During that period, of course, we will have time to devise new policies.”
However Mr Ewing admitted the funding for his approach was dependant on the support of the UK Government, and no commitment had been forthcoming from Mr Eustice.
“Defra will have to be dragged kicking and screaming into carrying on the existing schemes or any form of replacements,” he said.
Pressed on whether the Scottish Government would pick up the tab if the funding does not materialise, he said: “Plainly we don’t have £500million to replace post-EU funding and I don’t think the UK Government is denying this.
“I told George that everyone who is reliant on the £500million in Scotland was increasingly agitated about the lack of any clarity about funding post-Brexit.”
New SAMW president, Frank Clark appeared less convinced that such a long transition was necessary.
He said: “Whether the correct timescale for this is two years or as long as five, the important point is that we must have a smooth transition into the post-Brexit structure. The risk is that if we don’t get such a period, the industry will be plunged into chaos while new procedures and regulations are put in place and we can’t afford that.”