We are now firmly into the new year with spring finally revealing itself, and we have a very interesting year ahead of us.
It is going to be an extraordinarily testing one as we adapt to these ever-changing and uncertain times. On a global perspective, we are going to have to figure out how our businesses are going to fit in to a post-Brexit world. There are going to be challenges with our existing European markets, but also huge opportunities in doing business with the rest of the world; after all, Scotland is synonymous with high-quality food and drink, as well as an exceptional place to come to for both tourism and world-class country sports.
We recently met with Lord Dunlop, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Scotland Office, to discuss the implications of Brexit on rural businesses. We have also had discussions with both Scottish Government civil servants and Cabinet Ministers – what is clear is that everyone wants to achieve the best for rural Scotland, even if the way in which they want to achieve this differs.
We have had positive meetings with our Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy, Fergus Ewing, around the barriers that exist to prevent investment, and to try to seek solutions to encourage people to feel confident to invest going forward into the future.
But we still have a whole raft of measures, consultations and reviews going on throughout Scotland that do not help with the confidence that is needed. Last year’s Land Reform Act from last year is now falling behind schedule in terms of implementation, which is unsurprising given the scale of complex secondary legislation required, and there are still many issues that are needing to be sorted out with that, not least of which is the uncertainty which still surrounds sporting rates. This uncertainty is going to be with us for most of the rest of the year while the assessors get to grips with a very difficult exercise.
On top of that, we have just seen released the report by SNH into licences for individuals to take game throughout Europe. There is a real danger that in a drive to make comparisons with our continental neighbours and what they do, we end up trying to compare apples with oranges, as we have both very different culture and sporting enterprise here in Scotland.
It is perhaps too easy for people to forget just how vital these businesses are to rural Scotland, especially in the winter months. We have people coming from all over the world to take part in these sports, and we should be looking to ask ourselves “how do we get more of them here?”, and not running the risk of putting barriers in the way.
For our members who should be about to receive their Spring edition of our Land Business magazine, you will be able to read about examples of businesses that are grasping the future, whether it is tourists at Luss Estates, new venison enterprises across Scotland, or an AD plant in the Borders. These are wonderful examples of enterprises that are embracing change and providing a vibrant sustainable future. What you will notice from these case studies, is that they are not the traditional examples of land-use in sheep, beef or dairy. We should be under no illusion, as the SRUC highlights from last year, that the state and profitability of the traditional Scottish farming enterprises is almost entirely dependent upon CAP in order to achieve any profitability. Anything other than a gradual evolution could see huge structural change in the countryside which will affect both ourselves and the communities that we live in. There needs to be time to allow the change required to take place.
For those of you who are not members, you can read more about the fantastic AD plant in operation at Charlesfield Farm in our blog from earlier this week.
Scottish Land & Estates Spring Conference and AGM is taking place on 30 May at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh. The theme of the 2017 conference is Rural Investment: Hopes and Fears for a New Era. We aim to highlight the challenges, but also more importantly to provoke thought for discussion about how we can embrace the future. I would like to urge our members to find the time to come along and enjoy the day.
On the evening of 30 May, we will be holding our first Helping It Happen awards – celebrating the contribution made by farms, estates and rural businesses to their local area. Make sure that you nominate those who are helping it happen in your area, or nominate your own business to celebrate the good work that you are involved in.
David Johnstone, Chairman