NFU Scotland has used its annual AGM in Aviemore to discuss the Scottish Government’s offer of better recognising the relationship between Scotland’s primary producers and the general public.
When Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead addressed the Oxford Farming Conference in January, he offered Scottish farmers a new contract with society that would recognise the fundamental role of farmers and land managers in managing and utilising Scotland's biggest asset – the land.
In his Presidential address at the AGM, Jim McLaren said:
“We warmly welcome the Cabinet Secretary’s offer but we need to see the contract in black and white and we need it to take shape in the next 12 months so that Scotland’s farmers and growers can move forwards with confidence.
“At the core of that contract must be recognition of farming’s primary role of producing quality food at affordable prices. That is most easily achieved against the backdrop of stable and sustainable markets rather than the current climate of a volatile marketplace. Many are now waking up to the reality that food security is no longer a certainty and any contract must help deliver fairer trading conditions for all parts of the supply chain. The delivery of an ombudsman to oversee the way our major retailers engage with their suppliers is an important part of that and we look to progress being made on this issue.
“Part of any new contract will also need to look at the way in which support is delivered to our sector. Most farmers would dearly love to be operating in a market place which properly rewarded them for the true value of what they produce, but realistically that remains a long way off. The Cabinet Secretary has stated that public support for farming in the years ahead is wholly justified. We want to sit down with Government and Europe and help shape how that support – whether available through the CAP or Scotland’s rural development funds - will be delivered in the future.
“There is also a continuing need to address the regulatory burden facing our industry. A new regulatory environment may at last be on the horizon and some of the changes that we have long called for are finally being delivered across organisations like SEPA, with the Scottish Government’s commendable SEARS project stripping out more than 2000 annual on-farm inspections. We also need a working environment that allows our industry to operate on the same footing as all others. It is time for Scottish Government to grasp the nettle, recognise the growing irrelevance of the agricultural wages board and let employment in the agricultural sector move into the 21st century.
“This would be a good example of the brave decision-making that will be increasingly required of our politicians if we are to turn the ambitions we have for Scottish food and farming into a reality. We will give strong backing to Scotland’s food and drink strategy, but we will seek reassurances that this strategy will not be undermined by other policy objectives.
“Areas of conflict already exist. The delivery of Scottish Government’s own Climate Change agenda is built around putting 25 percent of Scotland under trees; planting that may ultimately take place on land currently being used for food production. Establishing a commercial forest involves two weeks of planting, two weeks of harvesting and thirty years in between where the forest’s additional contribution to food production and a rural community’s well being is virtually non-existent.
“Government must also be braver when considering the technologies that our industry is likely to require in order to remain competitive in the years ahead. Scottish Government support for research and development has helped keep our institutes at the vanguard in world terms. Those institutes are ideally placed to decide which technological advances will help Scottish farmers in the future.
“If our new contract with society is also to include animal health and welfare issues, then we need fresh impetus given to the negotiations on securing a fair share of the budget. Finances for animal health remain within the control of Defra and unless resolved soon, Scotland’s share will be from a rapidly diminishing pot. Scotland is both willing and able to run its own affairs on animal health and welfare and this impasse on funding must be resolved for any new Scottish Animal Health Partnership to take its place in the new industry contract.
“With any contract, all parties must play their part. We, as farmers, crofters and growers must make a renewed commitment to quality, efficient production, which respects the environment and underpins communities. We need to be honest with ourselves about where we fail as an industry as well as where we succeed. We have much room for improvement in terms of co-operation and marketing. If we do not strive to be better tomorrow than today then we will fail.
“This is an industry that has always risen to a challenge and we will do so again. We have offered up our side of the deal and if politicians, the supply chain and consumers commit to their side of the contract, then a long and successful future for our industry is secured.”
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