LUCY BEATTIE: Crofting a crucial local player amid global challenges
Easier access to your trusted, local news. Subscribe to a digital package and support local news publishing.
Crofting is deeply rooted in the cycle of seasons, and early January heralds the farming conferences in Oxford. In its 15 th year the ORFC proudly claims to highlight an alternative to the traditional and somewhat staid Oxford Farming Conference that runs at the same time. The ORFC aligns perfectly with crofting, emphasizing the importance of small to micro-businesses, community, culture, and identity.
The future is bright for four young crofters at the Oxford Real Farming Conference, who have established thriving businesses models.
However, their success stands in stark contrast to the challenges faced by rural communities post-Brexit, as the loss of European influence and collaboration continues to impact trade and innovation in agriculture.
Repercussions are evident in a 2023 Scottish Government report, which highlights the collapse of trade for Scottish seed potato growers. Added to this there is pressure for rural and island areas that previously attracted EU structural development funding – they now face a 60 per cent shortfall.
Donald MacSween, a crofter from Ness is unequivocal in his assessment of the losses to crofting areas, “We miss it a lot. Europe was much fairer at distributing funding and opportunities for collaboration. Fairer than Edinburgh, or London.”
Beth Rose from Inverness-shire is a former NHS theatre nurse who swapped her scrubs for a boilersuit as a new entrant crofter. She is part of a women-only agricultural research group funded by an EU Horizon project led by Irish academic Professor Sally Shortall, which collaborates to grow rural business across 25 European countries.
But back in 2021 the EU Horizon project sat in deadlock on the back of a lengthy and tortuous hold-up authored by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson who threatened to temporarily suspend parts of a trade deal with the EU by triggering article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol. Thankfully deadlock was broken, and a new deal will commence this month, but not without significant damage inflicted to Scottish research projects.
While Brexit has left its mark on rural Scotland, these young crofters are forging new paths, embracing collaboration opportunities, and championing sustainable practices. Chair Theona Morrison remained positive about global opportunities through the Scottish Rural and Islands Parliament: “Scotland is the only nation with a rural parliament linked to rural organisations in Europe and the rural voice still needs to be heard if we are talking about food security and all those things.”
With 70% of the world' population fed from parcels of land two acres or smaller, crofting in the Highlands and Islands emerges from ORFC24 as a crucial player in sustainable and regenerative farming practices amidst the challenges posed by climate and biodiversity crises.
Lucy Beattie grew up on a farming estate in Ross-shire near Ullapool; she also worked as a farmer for 25 years. She is an academic researcher and a nominated candidate for the Scottish National Party for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter-Ross at the next general election.