Scotland is home to many ancient agricultural traditions from whiskey making to crofting; sheep farming to deer hunting. Isolated in the far north of the United Kingdom, comprising over 700 islands Scotland's conditions give farmers many challenges. The European Union recognizes over 85% of Scotland as a "Less Favored Area".
What conditions do farmers face in Scotland?
1. Challenging terrain. Scotland possesses the most mountainous terrain in the United Kingdom being home to Britain's highest peak, Ben Nevis. The challenging mountains, often snow covered and barren, mean that much of the highlands is most suitable for grazing livestock such as sheep that can survive on meager grasses.
2. Geographic isolation. Scotland's farmers face geographic isolation - especially those who farm the many remote islands that are not continually accessible from the mainland. The main transport routes are roads, often slow, difficult routes that take many hours to traverse compared to the fast, straight, flat motorways of most of Britain. Weather conditions can also hamper transportation and communication.
3. Temperate but changeable climate. Scotland's climate is temperate and while notably cooler than Southern England is nevertheless warmer than many other locations of that latitude because it is warmed by the currents of the North Atlantic Drift. There are no icebergs in its waters, unlike Canadian waters, making fishing is important although chilling temperatures do damage and limit farming possibilities.
4. Variable soil quality. Scotland's farming difficulties include variable soil quality that is generally very poor at altitude becoming less fertile and stonier because of slower biological processes at lower temperatures.
5. Low rural population. Scotland has a concentration of population in the cities, especially Glasgow and Edinburgh, meaning rural populations are often small. Some croft farms especially in the remote north are so small that they are un-viable and crofting has given way to and is supplemented by tourism.
6. Economic incentives. The difficult farming conditions in Scotland have given rise to governmental economic incentives to stimulate industry and best practice in it. See for example, Less Favoured Area Support Scheme where activities such as cattle farming are promoted.
7. Cheaper imported competition. Scottish farming is impacted where cheaper imports are available. For example Scottish pig farmers have been threatened by cheap imports from Holland and Denmark which do not have the same standards of animal care and are able to produce more at less cost. Despite these harsh conditions over three-quarters of Scotland's land mass is farmed and every agricultural job generates employment elsewhere.