Andrew Connon Reflects on His First Year in Office

I am grateful to the members and branches that voted me in to the role of NFU Scotland Vice President on the 12 February at the Union’s first ever online AGM!

Since then, I have certainly had a memorable year. On Monday 15 February, I was allocated various committees – Combinable Crops, Horticulture, Potatoes, Milk, LFA, ELU, Crofting, Highlands and Islands and Internal Finance and Remuneration.

It has been extremely interesting getting to grips with these committees and it is a pleasure to be working with the dedicated Policy Managers, Committee Chairs and Committee Members on a huge range of topics. Through access to all the departments as a Vice President, I now realise and appreciate the huge amount of work that goes on behind the scenes of NFU Scotland.

Covid initially held back face-to-face meetings, but by June I was keen to hit the road and get out and about to meet with members. Visiting members throughout Scotland, seeing their enterprises, and hearing about their issues and concerns firsthand, I find it easier to relate to the subject matter and it provides useful knowledge for lobbying on behalf of the industry.

The year has seen plenty of challenges, but I have enjoyed getting stuck into a variety of subjects and key issues.

The pig sector has experienced a brutal year due the loss of the Chinese license at Brechin in the Spring, and a lack of butchering capacity south of the Border which led to a backlog of pigs throughout the year. We lobbied hard for support and in March, Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing agreed a Pig Hardship Fund to compensate for the loss of the Chinese market.

However, the backlog of pigs on farm continues to rise and this, combined with derisory prices, cheap imports and hugely increased feed prices continues to create huge financial pain on pig producers.

The seed potato industry has endured much grief because of Brexit, with a ban on exports to Europe since 1 January. It was grossly unfair that the Europeans still had access to the UK for their seed till the end of June. We continue to lobby the UK Government as well as Europe for a change of thought process. In addition, we are engaging with merchants and big business on both sides of the water to get a resolve.

The month of May presented another unsavory situation with the failure of the grain merchanting business of Alexander Inglis. This was a massive blow to the industry, in particular for farmers, hauliers, and other merchants. The saga rolls on and will do for some time, however it was good to see other merchants taking on the tonnage and thankfully good weather and crop moistures eased pressures during harvest.

Labour has been another big topic this year. Regular full time, farm labour continues to be an issue, especially in dairying. However, for the flowers, soft fruit, and vegetable growers, this has been a particularly challenging season. A dysfunctional Seasonal Workers Pilot Scheme rolled out late by the UK Government, combined with haulage and freezing capacity issues has resulted in unpicked crops and huge financial hardship for these sectors. The UK Governments solution of using domestic labour is completely unpractical whilst the UK Government is in denial to the situation. We continue to press for an increase in seasonal visas for 2022.

Throughout the year I have taken many calls regarding the threat to the agricultural industry due to mass tree planting. The rising demand for timber, Government incentives and the hype of potential carbon trading has played hell with the land market. We have recently had a very constructive meeting with Cabinet Secretary Mairi Gougeon, Minister Mairi McAllan, and senior Government officials where the key concerns were voiced. In addition, further meetings have been held with Scottish Forestry and a newly set up stakeholder group to get to grips with the situation. We must retain productive ground for food production and ensure that the critical mass of our sectors is not eroded.

And then we have rising input prices like fertiliser. We have stated on numerous occasions to the UK Government the need for an adequate supply to ensure the basic requirements of food production and animal welfare are achieved.

Climate Change has dominated the headlines all year. The industry is arming itself with positive facts and evidence which highlights the good we have done, are doing and intend to do for the climate change targets. However, we desperately need to see accurate carbon accounting brought forward in 2022. It is crucial that sequestration of crops and grassland is proven and, in doing so, I believe this will be a game changer in defending the industry. There had been much hype about COP26, but it was refreshing to hear that farmer bashing was less extreme than expected and that much debate focused on food supply and food security.

Future agricultural policy and determining Scotland’s future will be a priority for 2022. It is essential that the Scottish Government moves at speed and delivers a policy that protects agriculture and crofting and allows the production of sustainable food at a profit.

A profitable agricultural industry across all sectors is top of my wish list for 2022, whereby the currently hard-pressed sectors experience better times. We need to see stability and a more balanced debate on land use, adequate labour supplies, and post Brexit trade issues addressed. It is essential that Government policies are based on independent scientific evidence, whilst we see key policies delivered for the right reasons rather than ticking a box.

As Vice President, I look forward to another year of meeting (Covid permitting) as many members as is possible across all sectors and regions, and irrespective of Covid I hope my phone remains busy due to continued member engagement. Most importantly, I wish you all good health and a happy and prosperous new year!

Author: Andrew J Connon

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About The Author

Andrew J Connon

Andrew runs a small commercial sheep flock on their farm in Ellon, Aberdeenshire along with his wife Pauline, daughter and son. Andrew has been a member of NFU Scotland for 20 years with New Deer branch and is a former branch chair. He has been on the North East Regional Board for several years having been elected a Vice-Chair of the region in 2017 before taking on the North East Regional Chair role in January 2020.

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