13 March 2006

Stevenson Calls On Government To Secure Future Of Farming Industry

Banff & Buchan SNP MSP Stewart Stevenson has called on Rural Affairs Minister Ross Finnie to address the ‘age crisis’ in Scottish farming by introducing a scheme to assist new entrants into the industry.

With the average age of farmers now around 60, Mr Stevenson is backing calls from local farmers for a support scheme to encourage the next generation of young farmers. The Banff & Buchan MSP raised the matter on the floor of Parliament during an agriculture debate last week.

Speaking during the debate, Mr Stevenson said:

“The median age of farmers is now 60 - an age at which they will receive their bus pass from the Executive, which will be a blessed relief, I am sure. That illustrates the big problem with getting youngsters into farming and the significant barriers that prevent young people from working in the industry. I know that the Minister agrees that the age profile of the agriculture industry is simply far too high.

“Other countries have schemes to help new entrants to go into farming. The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland launched such a scheme on 5 June 2005. It supports the establishment of young farmers under 40 by providing an interest rate subsidy on loans. In my submission to the rural development consultation, I made the point that the minister has an opportunity to address the age profile of the agriculture industry in Scotland. I hope that the matter is still on the agenda, notwithstanding the fact that no scheme has been introduced yet.”

Mr Stevenson went on to urge the Government to procure more of its food requirements from local sources. He continued:

“The issue of local produce should undoubtedly be mentioned again. The Executive, in its many arms, buys a lot of food. It buys food for civil service canteens and for the 7,000 prisoners whom it houses. It can make a significant contribution both financially and by setting an example. It can show other institutions and commercial ventures that there is value in buying locally. After all, as commercial operations, the supermarkets can hardly be criticised for not buying locally and not supporting local suppliers if the Government does not do that. The Minister should address that point in his future deliberations.”

Mr Stevenson concluded:

“Agriculture continues to be at the core of the local economy in much of Scotland. Rural areas are defined as local authority areas where the population is less than 1 person per hectare. In those areas, agriculture accounts for 5 per cent of the economy, but, of course, many hamlets and small villages depend on agriculture for their survival. Too many communities become commuter shells or holiday-home shells when people have no realistic opportunity to work in agriculture. That affects agricultural engineers, veterinarians, the smithy, the mart staff and so on.”

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