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The support of governments and the public will be crucial factors if Scotland is to prosper in the post-Brexit era – writes NFU Scotland vice president Martin Kennedy
As part of the union’s work on identifying the best Brexit options for Scottish farming and crofting, I joined fellow board member Angus MacFadyen and deputy director of policy Andrew Bauer on a study trip to Norway to examine the much-discussed ‘Norwegian model’.
It was clear to all that Norwegian agriculture is recognised and supported by its government and the vast majority of the public.
And although Norway is only around 50 per cent self-sufficient in food, farming is a business that is on an upward trajectory. The reason for this is two-fold.
Firstly, relative to Scottish farmers, Norwegian costs are high. However, what they receive in terms of price for their product plus how they are supported makes up the difference and more.
Secondly, the general public in Norway is connected to agriculture compared to the relative disconnect we have here. That leads to a real appreciation of what agriculture is doing, not only by way of providing a high-quality product but by recognising farmers as essential players in looking after the environment. This explains why they have no need for extra environmental measures as they feel agriculture in Norway is already doing a pretty good job.
Although Norway is not a member of the EU, it is a member of the European Economic Area agreement and, as such, pays a subscription to trade with EU member states.
This has some caveats attached. They must take on board a fair percentage of the regulation that is commonly agreed throughout Europe, but non-membership of the EU also has its advantages when it comes to their own agricultural policy and support.
Co-operation is key, and the regulation structure which has kept farm sizes the same for generations has helped this process. Virtually all product prices are set, to a degree, by the co-ops.
Arable cropping receives an area-based support and some of this cropping takes place on some really challenging land. They still have milk quotas for the dairy industry, which is well supported, and also receive a headage payment. Not bad considering the milk price is currently 57p per litre.
Most herds are milked by robots and a 40-cow dairy herd, which is quite large by Norwegian standards, can deliver a good living.
The beef and sheep sectors are also well supported, both by way of headage payments and a grazing management payment paid on an area basis. It doesn’t end there, as there is also support for the actual kilos of meat produced.
If you have 300 ewes or more you are deemed to be a pretty big sheep farmer. One young farmer we visited had just over 300 ewes and had just invested £300,000 in a new slatted sheep shed. He did receive a grant, as he was a young farmer, but £1,000 per ewe investment is still truly amazing.
As there is considerable support delivered on either a production basis or indeed by way of a headage payment, it begs the question of how the Norwegians get around World Trade Organisation regulation when it is paying everything on acreage and headage? The answer puts things into perspective.
According to the Norwegians, it is not a production or headage payment. It is an environmental and cultural sustainability payment, but delivered through area and headage.
Surely this only goes to show that where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Martin Kennedy – Norway trip . 06_a01nfusKennedy01