President Martin Kennedy's address to autumn conference

Thank you very much Mr. Chief Executive, and Good morning Cabinet Secretary, NFU Scotland council, Ladies and Gentlemen.

I must say it’s fantastic to get back to meetings in person, the difference it makes is incredible and I hope we can build on this in the future. I sincerely hope we will manage to hold our AGM more akin to what we would normally have, however I know there’s still a long way to go and we are certainly not out of the woods yet, although thinking about it given the current direction of travel with forestry, the chances of us ever getting out of the woods are pretty slim, but more on that later.

First of all Cabinet secretary, can I  thank you for reiterating once more your firm commitment that there will be absolutely no policy whatsoever to reduce livestock numbers in Scotland, we all know that this is not in the interests of either our economy or indeed our environment, and one of the reasons I agreed to sit on the ARIOB was to make sure this did not happen, so finally putting that to bed is important. Can I also thank you for your announcement of the £51m package to assist the industry in defining a baseline of where we are at present on individual farms and crofts. This will not only give us an individual picture of where we are starting from, it will also give us a national picture which I am sure will show we are already starting from a good place in Scotland. This baselining will also inform the decisions we need to make in the future which in turn will showcase Scottish food production as being a major part of the solution to climate change and biodiversity, not the problem.

However, I must say I am still seriously disappointed that we do not have either a top up to the existing calf scheme or indeed a separate calf scheme payment that allowed the beef sector to move earlier on, showing its willingness to address some of the issues it is facing in its own right. I am still of the belief that this could have happened had there been the political will to do so.

That said, taking this whole industry approach was always going to be the next stage and we cannot wait any longer, the whole industry needs to know what is coming down the track and this is now beginning to show that sense of direction for all sectors.

One thing this has highlighted is the real importance of having strong industry representatives from all sectors, playing a major part in the decisions being made around future policy. Without real world understanding and knowledge of what happens on the ground, too many decisions can be made without fully understanding the unintended consequences.

This is why I and others who sit on the ARIOB did not take this job on lightly, we needed to know that this group was not going to be another talking shop. This group had to have meaningful and definitive solutions that would definitely be implemented, and I am pleased as co-chair of this group, that a clear steer of direction has been found which WILL be implemented which completely ties in with the excellent work and recommendations carried out by the Farmer Led Groups. After seeing how this group has now pushed delivery on this first part of the road map, I and others on the ARIOB will be determined to hold Scottish government to account by delivering the next stages in developing the longer-term policy that I know we are all waiting to see.

It goes without saying that I have always been extremely optimistic about the industry that we as NFU Scotland are so proud to lobby for on a daily basis, so that we can not only highlight the massive economic, environmental and climate change benefits our industry brings with it, but also how in the future we can deliver more to show that we are indeed a major part of the solution when it comes to the targets we have set in front of us.

However, Scottish and UK agriculture right now is facing some of the most serious challenges it has faced in its history, there is at the moment a perfect storm created by political decisions, the current covid pandemic and a loud minority of people who do not fully understand the reality of food production in this country, and unless we address this immediately, our ability to be a self-sustaining nation will be completely eroded. The immediate labour crisis is affecting all forms of food production and the impact of extremely high fertilizer prices and other input costs puts in serious doubt whether many crops will be grown next year, and yet the response from some of our retailers is it won’t matter we’ll simply import more. Well, that’s not good enough, we need our politicians to understand more what the unintended consequences are of not taking action immediately, and also to understand that they themselves face the wrath of our consumers if they fail to deliver.

I know full well there is no silver bullet, but there are some measures that would make a world of difference to farmers and crofters that would give us the confidence to continue doing what we do best.

First of all, we need to know that from a UK perspective, what we produce here is valued, given the most recent trade deals signed with Australia and New Zealand whereby we were not privy to any of the negotiations, the signals we are getting is not one of being valued but more of let’s use agriculture as the pawn to get what we want. I have sat in discussions with the secretary of state for international trade where every other organisation in the room could rightly see the massive benefits and opportunities that lay ahead; however, they were not facing an import trade that would affect their market whatsoever. I have also had discussions with the Australian High Commissioner George Brandis who told me that their stakeholders were fully involved in the negotiations and our government should learn from that, nothing has changed, we are continually kept in the dark.

This has to change, we need to be informed and kept in the loop when it comes to international trade deals, or the current situation of being only 60% self-sufficient in food, a drop of 20% in only a few decades will drop even further. If we cannot feed ourselves we lose real bargaining power as we are at the mercy of others to provide us with the most precious of energy sources that exists, and at the same time we simply offshore our emissions to other countries, many of which do not share our climate or environmental concerns.

Bringing it closer to home, our own Scottish government must begin to realise the importance of Scottish farmers and crofters, not only from a food production and economic point of view, but also from an environmental and socio-economic perspective. We all know that we are going to have to do more in the future when it comes to emissions reduction and biodiversity enhancement and we see from the direction of travel given from the membership of the Ariob that this is already starting, but please do not forget that from a global perspective we are starting from a really good place here in Scotland.

There is one really serious issue that the Scottish government must address immediately because if we don’t we will be paying for this for generations to come. Not that long ago, and to a certain degree it’s still the case, the Scottish Government were concerned about who owned Scotland, right now things are happening that fast that the likelihood of active farmers and crofters continuing to own and manage land in Scotland in the manner we are used to will be completely diminished.

We are in a Realtime situation where instead of Scotland maintaining its world-renowned status as a high-quality food producing nation with fantastic environmental credentials, Scotland is fast becoming the bargain basement for overseas purchasers to invest in carbon credits to offset their own failings to better their own industry. This must stop and it must stop now. There is never a day goes by without the mention of another area of land being sold to wealthy organisations or individuals, on many occasions not even from the UK. 

We continually speak about a future agricultural policy fit for Scotland and the need to get this right, I think this is absolutely doable and seeing the progress starting to be made I have every confidence that before too long we will see through the eyes of the ARIOB a real ambitious policy that will be the envy of many. But what will be the point if we allow our green credentials which incidentally have been built on and added to by generations of bloody hard work, simply pulled from under our feet because we allow it to happen.

What chance does our next generation have of starting up in agriculture when all available land is swallowed up by green lairds who are only interested in one thing. I am certainly not one for too much regulation, in fact regulation is something through stability and simplicity that we are trying to address. But this scenario is running way out of control and needs to be stopped before we as a nation are seen as a laughingstock.

Don’t get me wrong, I can see massive opportunities in the carbon markets for annual management payments whereby we as farmers and crofters could benefit through management actions that are seen to enhance carbon capture, and I can also see many opportunities where planting trees that act as  wildlife corridors or carbon sinks can help the environment and in many cases help with biosecurity on farms, again this all ties in with the FLG recommendations, however that is completely different from wholescale farm plantings that take out not only good agricultural land but also the people who are the life and soul of the community.

Right now, I am painting a pretty gloomy picture, sadly it’s a true one and I am disgusted that it’s happening right under our noses, and no-one is batting an eyelid. The farming for 1.5-degree group highlighted in their final report that carbon trading should be halted until we get a proper handle on it. The FLG’s reported similarly and NFU Scotland will continue to make the case that until we know the exact science of what we are dealing with, this should be stopped or the critical mass that’s required to maintain the agricultural infrastructure we currently have will fall apart. Scotland cannot afford for that to happen. The Scottish government must act on this now.

Finally, to end on a positive note as it bothers me greatly to be so pessimistic, I want to set the scene whereby politicians on both sides of the border could sort all our problems if they simply listened to farmers.

First of all, for the UK government, increase immediately the SAWP to 80,000 and immediately kickstart our own gas and energy plants so we are not at the mercy of others to provide our energy and co2 for us. This would reduce waste, limit imports, create jobs, generate economy, limit emissions and enhance the environment.

And for the Scottish Government, place a moratorium on whole farm sales for carbon credits, introduce food production and the environment into the school curriculum and introduce proper labelling in the food service sector. This would also reduce waste, limit imports, create jobs, generate economy, limit emissions and enhance the environment.

Politics could be so simple if we just took the complications out of it,

Thank you.

Author: Martin Kennedy

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About The Author

Martin Kennedy

Martin is a tenant farmer in Aberfeldy, Highland Perthshire and farms with his wife Jane and three daughters. They have 600 ewes and 60 cows on the farm rising from 800ft to 2,500ft. Martin served two years as Highland Perthshire Branch chair, before representing East Central region on the LFA committee in 2009. Martin went on to be Vice-Chair before chairing the committee for three years. He was elected Vice-President in 2017 and elected as President in 2021.

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