Ewing pledges to put food production at the heart of future agricultural policy

Fergus Ewing

Defra’s plan to focus post-Brexit farm funding on environmental projects was yesterday condemned as a “green screen” devised solely to enable the Treasury to withdraw direct support for food production.

Scotland’s Rural Secretary Fergus Ewing made the claim at NFU Scotland’s annual meeting in Glasgow after a long speech in which he reassured farmers that the Scottish Government believed the primary role of agriculture was to produce food.

It was a clear sign of the diverging approach to future farm support north and south of the border and follows Defra Secretary Michael Gove’s pledge at last month’s Oxford Farming Conference to reward farmers for public goods and environmental benefits.

Mr Ewing made it clear the Scottish Government’s approach was fundamentally different.

“Any future policy or support scheme must have food production at its core,” he said.

“We must continue to support and incentivise high quality, sustainable food production. It is not in contradiction with the debate about public value. It’s at the heart.”

Speaking later, he insisted there was no inherent conflict between farming and the environment and farmers should get more credit for the work they currently do as de facto environmentalists.

“My worry is that Mr Gove’s focus almost solely on the environment is a sort of green screen paving the way for the Treasury to withdraw financial support for farming as food production, and to do so as quickly as they can in political terms.

“The Treasury, after all, axed the less favoured areas scheme from England seven years ago.

“Many people, including myself, believe that the desire is to terminate this burden, as they see it, of supporting farming.”

Mr Ewing said that in Scotland support should continue for both food production and environmental stewardship.

However, while the direction of travel may be clear, he refused to be rushed into announcing any outline of a Scottish farming strategy and said it could take until at least the end of the year before the industry sees an initial draft.