GORDON DAVIDSON

SCOTTISH farmers are now looking towards Norway's rural policy as a possible template for what the Scottish Government and supply chain could do to encourage productive agriculture post-Brexit.

NFU Scotland vice president Martin Kennedy recently visited the Scandinavian country – which is not an European Union member – and found that Norwegian farmers are both well supported by their government and, of equal importance, backed by the general public both in terms of the prices they pay for food and the recognition of the environmental benefits they deliver.

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He reported that support packages were in place for all sectors of agriculture – arable, livestock, dairy – allowing farming businesses that would be considered small in Scottish terms to generate a good living. But price and price setting, controlled to a large extent by Norway's farming co-operatives, were also an important part of the 'Norwegian Model'.

Commenting on the study trip, Mr Kennedy said: "It was clear to all that Norwegian agriculture is recognised and supported by its government and the vast majority of the public. Although Norway is only around 50% 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 are connected to their 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."

While 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 – an arrangement with some caveats attached, as it must take on board a fair percentage of the regulation that is commonly agreed throughout Europe. But non-membership of the EU does confer some advantages when it comes to arriving at its own agricultural policy and support.

Co-operation between farms is key to the Norwegian model, and a land regulation structure which has kept farm sizes the same for generations has helped this process. With competition between farmers held in check, virtually all product prices can be set, to a degree, by the co-ops.

"They still have milk quotas for the dairy industry, which is well supported, and also receive a headage payment," noted Mr Kennedy. "Not bad considering their 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."

Looking at Norway's sheep sector, Mr Kennedy was amazed by its prosperity, which stands in stark contrast to Scotland's struggling upland stock farms: "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 £1000 per ewe investment is still truly amazing."

But how do the Norwegians get around World Trade Organisation regulations against direct production supports when it is paying farmers on acreage and headage? According to the Norwegians, these are not production or headage payments – they are "environmental and cultural sustainability payments" delivered through area and headage.

"Surely this only goes to show that if there's a will, there's a way," observed Mr Kennedy.

For in-depth news and views on Scottish agriculture, see this Friday’s issue of The Scottish Farmer or visit www.thescottishfarmer.co.uk