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Scottish farm policy: Details of £51m National Test Programme unveiled

Funding is being made available for soil analysis and carbon audits.
Funding is being made available for soil analysis and carbon audits.

Scottish Government has revealed details for the first phase of its £51 million National Test Programme – designed to prepare farmers and crofters for future farm policy.

The National Test Programme (NTP): Preparing for Sustainable Farming initiative, which was announced in October last year, will be delivered in two phases over the next three years.

The first phase, defined as Track 1, offers farmers, crofters and land managers support for carbon audits, soil analysis and access to a new statistics programme for suckler beef producers.

Announcing details of the new programme, Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon said she wanted Scotland to become a “global leader in sustainable and regenerative agriculture”.

“Many are already leading the way having carried out carbon audits and soil sampling work but we are offering support to encourage all farmers and crofters to undertake this,” added Ms Gougeon.

Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon.

“We are planning to introduce enhanced conditionality for payments with targeted outcomes for biodiversity gain and a drive towards low carbon approaches.”

She said work on the NTP had been developed in partnership with industry and it was designed to arm farmers, crofters and land managers with “what they need” ahead of the launch of a Scottish Agriculture Bill, with new post-Brexit agricultural policy, next year.

Through Track 1, farmers, crofters and agricultural contractors can apply for a grant of £500 towards the cost of having a carbon audit of their business, or to have an existing audit updated if it is more than three years old.

They are eligible for this grant if they are registered for funding with the Scottish Government’s Rural Payments and Inspections Division (SGRPID) and have a Rural Payments and Services (RPS) username and password.

Support will also be made available for farmers to carry out soil analysis, via a Soil Analysis and Development Payment, however this will only be awarded once a carbon audit has been completed.

Land managers claiming Region 1 land on their annual Single Application Form (SAF) form will be able to claim for the actual cost of soil analysis, up to a calculated maximum value for their soil sampling, and they will be given an additional payment with their first claim to cover personal development.

Beef producers will get access to a new system as part of the programme.

In addition, Track 1 will offer suckler beef producers access to YourHerdStats – a new online tool within the cattle movements and registrations system ScotEID.

Scottish Government said all claims must be made via  new online portal, which can be accessed from  the Preparing for Sustainable Farming guidance page on its Rural Payments and Services website.

Farmers will be able to apply for carbon audit support from May into early June, after which soil analysis claims will open for applications.

“I want to encourage all eligible people to make a claim once the portal is open and take the next step towards the future of Scottish agriculture,” added Ms Gougeon.

Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) welcomed details of the NTP but said further clarity on post-Brexit agricultural policy was needed.

The organisation’s agriculture and climate change policy adviser, Paul Richardson, said SLE members regularly ask for guidance on what they should be doing to prepare for the future.

He said: “This week’s announcement is therefore a positive development, and I encourage all our eligible members to take up the funding offer as soon as possible.

SLE says progress on developing a new agricultural policy for Scotland has been slow.

“We do however note that this is only a small first step. The apparent lack of progress [on future policy] is creating significant uncertainty for Scotland’s farmers and land managers.”

Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) vice principal, Andrew Lacey, said: “We welcome the launch of the National Test Programme, which is a crucial first step towards Scotland realising its ambition of becoming a global leader in sustainable farming.

“Scotland’s Rural College stands ready to help deliver the programme and boost the natural economy.”

Full details of the new schemes are online at ruralpayments.org/topics/all-schemes/preparing-for-sustainable-farming–psf-/

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