Agricultural and rural businesses from across Scotland have once again congregated at Ingliston for this year’s Royal Highland Show.
The annual event is a showcase for Scotland’s diverse rural economy with exhibitors representing industries as diverse as farming, food and drink, clothing, retail, hospitality, renewable energy and many others.
The Royal Highland Show is one of the most important events in the rural calendar providing a forum to network and build strong working relationships. In my capacity as Labour’s Shadow Environment Minister, the event is also an excellent opportunity to discuss the key issues affecting the various sectors.
High on the agenda among farming interests at the show is the ongoing reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. Following complex negotiations, businesses across the country will be eager to assess the implications of the new deal so it is vital that details are quickly forthcoming.
There are a number of aspects of the new CAP that are welcome, including the shift from historic to area based payments, action to tackle slipper farmers and support for new entrants.
The new CAP also includes initiatives to support ongoing work by many farmers to make their business more environmentally friendly including support for beef farmers and the new agri-environment scheme. Alongside the agricultural aspects of the CAP there are also welcome initiatives to support the wider rural economy through the Scottish Rural Development Programme.
Elsewhere, there was particular interest in the review of Agricultural Holdings Legislation from the Scottish Tenant Farmer Association. The review group’s interim report highlights the many challenges facing the sector and the sensitivities surrounding rent reviews.
Anticipation of the review’s interim findings were heightened by a recent decision of the land court to impose a rent increase of 78% on the tenant at Roxburgh Mains farm.
There are ongoing concerns in the tenanted sector that rent decisions are being taken while the review is ongoing. Scottish Labour has backed calls for a moratorium on rent reviews until the work of the review group has allowed Parliament to reach a consensus.
Alongside these issues, I am eager to see support for the SRUC to ensure that young people are encouraged to consider potential careers in agriculture or other rural sectors. This training is vital both to sustain these industries and ensure that young people are not lost to rural communities. The SRUC is also taking forward important research on issues relating to climate change and biodiversity which I am keen to see taken forward.
These are issues that I will be continuing to monitor in the months ahead.
Of course, alongside the Highland Show’s professional interest, the event is also a big draw for tourists and I really enjoyed taking in the different exhibits in the summer sunshine.