2014 will be a very significant year for Scotland’s farmers

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As thoughts flicker between what happened in the past and what the future holds, as thoughts tend to do at this time of year, there is no escaping the significance of 2014 for Scotland’s farmers.

A ‘Yes’ vote for Scottish independence in this September’s referendum could make all present arguments about European Union farming subsidies redundant because, according to some assessments, an independent Scotland would have to reapply for EU membership, with no certainty of success. No membership – no subsidies, apart from those that would/might come from the Scottish Government. I take no sides in this argument. I watch farmers as well as politicians and report the facts.

The facts are, as I see it, that the SNP government bases its forecasts for Scottish farming on the premise that Scotland will quickly become an EU member state in its own right.

Backers of the “Better together” campaign to keep Scotland within the UK disagree.

Better Together point out that the UK provides a “home” market of more than 60 million people worth more than £45billion to Scotland’s goods and services, including food and drink. Also that being part of the UK means access to the EU and its support for farmers, the common agricultural policy (CAP) being worth about £25,000 a year to each of Scotland’s 15,700 farmers, for some much more.

The ‘Yes’ to independence campaign points to the recent SNP policy paper which stated that the Scottish Government will “provide a direct voice for Scotland’s farmers in Europe … Scotland’s agriculture sector will be a priority for Scotland’s engagement with the EU… An independent Scotland can negotiate the best possible deal …” All good political-speak, but short on detail.

The SNP also says that it will reduce the burden of European livestock rules and support new entrants. I think that the nub of the argument for farmers is simply whether an independent Scotland can get EU membership.

Not forgetting that the UK as a whole has been promised a referendum on whether we should stay in the EU. How about that for irony, if Scotland’s voters opt to remain in the UK then the UK votes to leave the EU?

Independent or not, in or out of the EU, the medium-term outlook for livestock farming is promising, according to an outlook report by the world Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).

Between now and 2022, the report suggests that livestock prices are high now and will increase. Not such a good outlook for grain growers, however, with demand forecast to remain almost static.

Anyone familiar with farming and economic forecasts over the years will, of course, take such good news/bad news with a handful of salt.

Most of us will instead go into another new year with our usual feeling of wait and see, even if optimism somehow keeps breaking through.