Scotland the Brave
Didier Caraes, Permanent Assembly of Chambers of Agriculture (APCA)
Is there a specifically Scottish agricultural exception within the entity embodied by Great Britain? To answer the question, here is a rapid description of the Scottish agriculture made by Didier Caraes in the latest economic report issued by the Chambers of Agriculture we are publishing below in its entirety1.
While Scotland is the least populated region of Great Britain, it nevertheless accounts for 41,000 farms––or close to 25 percent of the British farming workforce––that are mostly livestock-related operations. There more than elsewhere in Great Britain, agriculture remains a central issue and is, today more than ever, a symbol of the country’s commitment to the European Union and the common agricultural policy, against the supporters of Britain’s exit from the EU (BREXIT). This special feature was recently expressed by the victory of the Scottish National Party (SNP) in the latest British elections.
The referendum on Britain’s exit from the EU could be held in 2017. If it gets a broad support, and even if the divorce might be an amicable one, the British agriculture, and that of its Scottish neighbor, could greatly suffer. An exit from the EU “would leave producers to the mercy of markets” while the country needs a “shield”, particularly through the CAP. In early February, Richard Lochhead, Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, voiced such concerns, which are also shared by the Irish economist Colin McCarthy, for whom introducing free trade in agriculture could prove to be markedly difficult.
For many, the food sovereignty of Great Britain would ultimately be at stake––a growing reliance on imports and drop in the number of farms––and, in all likelihood, “Scotland the Brave” will fight defend it.
momagri Editorial Board
The result of the United Kingdom elections surprised observers because of the landslide victory of the Scottish National Party (SNP) in Scotland’s ballot boxes. The news whets our curiosity: Is there a Scottish peculiarity? Scottish agriculture has indeed a specific profile, but this is within a British entity where each nation is singular in agriculture… and where England seems to be the most singular among them.
In June 2012, the latest statistical data published by the British National Statistics recorded 221,000 farms (chart 1) in the entire United Kingdom––England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. With 41,000 farms, Scotland accounts for 25 percent of the British farming workforce.
It is quite significant for a nation that only counts eight percent of the total British population.
This figure thus signals the agricultural aspect of the Scottish economy. Nevertheless this aspect remains a moderate one, since agricultural activities account for barely 0.93 percent of Scotland’s GDP (against 0.62 percent for the whole United Kingdom).
The average size of Scottish farms (106 hectares or 262 acres) is significantly higher than the British average (78 hectares or 193 acres). This is due to the specialty of Scottish agriculture with 51 percent of farms operating intensive production of sheep, goat or cattle for meat (Chart 2). This intensive livestock farming shapes the Scottish landscape made of abundant grassland on rolling hills and some steeper mountain ranges.
For sightseers, this landscape raises aesthetic thoughts. But for the Scots, it also conjures a difficult and violent period in their history. In the 18th century, land owners drove small farmers out of their land to breed mostly sheep; It was the period of Highlands Clearance. Such eviction, this ruthless purge (the term of clearance refers to the idea of purge) is also at the root of the large Scottish migrations of the 18th and 19th centuries. The rural landscapes are the current representations of past events, and the Scottish case is a perfect example.
Scottish agriculture is globally based on livestock farming. Basically, it shares this specificity with Northern Ireland and Wales. In the United Kingdom, only England is showing some genuine production diversity (a third of farms are specialized in field crops and 40 percent in livestock).
One also notes that in Scotland, as in England, farms with little specialization (mixed livestock and mixed crops) are remaining relatively plentiful and still account for 10 percent of the workforce. This situation is close to the one observed in France (12.5 percent of mixed-livestock and mixed-crops farming in the 2010 agricultural census). In Northern Ireland and in Wales, livestock farming is unquestionably prevalent in agricultural activities.
As far as incomes are concerned, Scottish farms seem to be rather poorly served and record lower results than the British average. This is due to its specialization in intensive livestock farming that, in the United Kingdom as in France, generates low revenue levels per worker.
England’s Eastern region has shown increasing revenues for the past few years. This can be explained by the weight of large crops in the area, an activity that has been lucrative since the early 2000s.
Lastly, to close this rapid outline of Scottish and more broadly British agriculture, let’s note that for the SNP, the agricultural issue is a strong point of disagreement between the interests of Scottish farmers and the concerns of farmers in other British nations (mostly England), with a confirmed Europeanism from the SNP, and the will to maintain a common agricultural policy against the Eurosceptic option from the British (and in fact English) side.
1 The complete article is available from: