President reflects on a successful AGM against backdrop of farming protests

The discontent that’s happening right across Europe and in some parts of the UK is fully understandable writes President Martin Kennedy. 

As the threat of the green agenda, extra layers of bureaucracy, low retailer returns and decreasing support payments hit farmers on top of high input costs, the strain is bound to reach breaking point.

I have been asked on many occasions if we should be taking the same type of action. At the moment, my answer to this is ‘no’. We need to ask ourselves exactly what would we be protesting about? 

In the first instance, we need to look at what is happening elsewhere and why. 

The Germans rightly were angered by the loss of rebated fuel and although they have avoided the immediate loss of red diesel it now looks as if they will still lose it over a three-year period. 

The Dutch have certainly been angered over the moves by their government to forcible buy up farms and reduce livestock numbers. 

The reality over much of the rest of Europe is that the farm to fork strategy driven by the green movement has still got in its sights on 25 per cent of Europe to be organic and have 30 per cent of farms in some form of ecological scheme by 2030. 

And, of course, the added concerns around imports from Ukraine is affecting trade across Europe and to an extent here as well.

What we cannot risk losing is consumer confidence and support for farmers, especially here in Scotland. That does not stop us from making our case loud and clear. I have absolutely no doubt that the #FoodNeedsAFarmer rally we staged 14 months ago at Holyrood, made a significant difference to the outcome of the Agriculture and Rural Communities (Scotland) bill. 

That rally not only galvanised our resolve to make sure politicians were aware that food production should be front and centre of any future agricultural policy, but it also encouraged more than 40 of our MSP’s (almost a third of Scotland’s elected members of parliament) to come out and speak to many of our members. 

Given the announcements we heard from the First Minister at our National AGM in Glasgow on the 9 February, it now looks like the Scottish Government has listened to many of NFU Scotland’s key priorities.

The announcement that we will maintain the current levels of support up to 2027 and from 2027 we will still maintain at least 70 per cent of support as direct support, has given a degree of confidence back to the industry. 

With the addition of maintaining a disadvantaged area support package alongside continuing coupled payments, this will also allow farmers and crofters to start to plan ahead again. 

There is of course still a significant amount of detail to come out in terms of the value and weightings of the proposed Tier 2 measures. However, knowing that the vast majority of support will be targeted at the first two tiers is very welcome indeed. We will continue to feed in our views on the values of the Tier 2 options to make sure the bar that’s set is high enough to make a marked difference for climate and biodiversity, but low enough to allow all sectors to get involved. 

However, what we cannot forget is this is all dependent on the ring-fenced funding package to continue to come up from Westminster, hence the reason we are in Westminster so often right now. 

And as you know, we are asking for this sum to be enhanced by at least another £170m to Scotland, delivered as a top up with the same split across the tiers. This would not only recognise the decreasing value of our current support, but it would also put a significant cash injection into tiers 3 and 4 which is every bit as important, especially for the unsupported sectors.

What was also heartening to hear from the First Minister was his language around growth, production, exports and value. These are words that I’m not hearing very often from other senior politicians across Europe. Through that constructive dialogue, I believe our influence is now paying real dividends.

Returning to the protests that we are seeing. We have to look at how we currently compare to others. The red diesel issue is something we fought hard for with other UK Unions, and we managed to maintain this vital concession for agriculture when others lost it. We are also not facing a target of 25 per cent organics, livestock reduction being imposed upon us and having to implement eco schemes across 30 per cent of our land. 

Things are far from rosy, and we still have serious green driven issues around species management, in particular around the impact of Sea Eagles and beavers. However, given the First Minister’s assurance that they will now recognise the unintended consequences of wrong decisions and will revisit those decisions where necessary, it gives us the real possibility of re-visiting and changing the regulation around over-protection of some of these species.

Then there’s market and retail returns that, right now, in some sectors are dire indeed. Having now launched our shelf watch campaign to focus on retail support, I am optimistic we can drive a change in supporting more local produce which would also apply to local and public procurement.

There is no doubt there is a long way to go to ensure all farmers and crofters are in a profitable and sustainable position but it’s plain to see the importance of NFU Scotland’s lobbying is absolutely key to reaching that goal.

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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