President's Blog - 1 August

This year has been exceptional and volatile weather is having an impact that no one could have predicted writes Andrew McCornick.
That is why we are working with all stakeholders to identify short-term solutions that address the serious shortfall in feed and fodder that is emerging and, through our #NFUSHowDoYouPlan campaign, trying to increase their availability in the difficult months ahead.

Longer term, there is a solution to the thorny issue of land being used to grow non-food crops.  It is estimated that around two percent of Scottish arable land is being used to grow crops such as rye for renewable energy production, yet the current European CAP support arrangements require farmers to put five percent of their arable area into EFA if they are to qualify for greening payments.

It is questionable how much EFA has delivered in the way of measurable environmental benefits.  When we move to a new post-Brexit agricultural policy for Scotland, we have the chance to bring EFA back into production again.  That would allow us to still meet demand for crops from the renewable energy sector, helping to hit our climate change targets, but also increase the volume of crops, fodder and straw that we can produce.
There is also the issue of good quality land currently classified as being in Region One for Basic Payment Scheme purposes being taken out for forestry, receiving grants for planting and still retaining basic payment. Increasing the area of forestry is a Scottish Government policy and is again a climate change target and an environmental aim.  It is, however, in some cases also taking good land from forage production.
Then you add into the mix the impact of Non-Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), a Westminster GB-wide programme that provides financial incentives to increase the uptake of renewable heat by businesses, the public sector and non-profit organisations and what impact those projects have on feed and fodder stocks.

Here, there is a more immediate solution in what are an extreme set of circumstances.  For those businesses using feed or fodder in heat schemes, Westminster could still commit to temporarily paying RHI to those businesses for a period of time if they agree to turn the burners off and make that feed and fodder available to producers.

Three different legislators – Scottish Government, Westminster and the EU - are all involved in the renewables arena and delivering a beggar’s muddle that farm businesses have to make choices around and, in an extreme year like this, the resultant outcomes are delivering unexpected results.

For farm businesses, the decisions are complex.  We have been encouraged to diversify and many are justifiably taking business decisions and investment decisions now on how to best use their assets i.e. the land and buildings at their disposal.
Had the cereal industry or the horticulture sector been properly rewarded for food production, then these schemes may not be getting adopted in the manner that they are.  Similarly, had the livestock sector been fairly rewarded for food production, then uptake of these schemes would have been more limited.

What's the right position for NFUS?  The reality is that we have members involved in all areas of this debate.  The market is king here and we need to acknowledge that.  But we also need to look for short term solutions that frees up availability of feed and fodder during this exceptional time.

Longer term, we have to accept change and adapt our individual businesses to the new norm.  For some farmers, non-food production is earning them an income that they would not get in food production.
On another level, if land was not growing crops for digesters or being planted in trees, would there be more beef and lamb being produced in Scotland and what would that do to the market for red meat?

Entrepreneurs are meeting the market for energy, and making the most of available support, by using a digester (essentially an artificial rumen) to produce this energy from forage. Others are using cattle and sheep to produce edible protein from forage, leaving consumers to turn that protein into energy.
Both are supplying a market need – Post-Brexit, it's a business choice for farmers which route they take and that decision will very much be influenced by the way in which support for farming and renewable energy generation is directed in the future.

Author: Andrew McCornick

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About The Author

Andrew McCornick

Andrew, who is married with three sons and a daughter, was born and brought up on a dairy farm in Wigtown. Andrew and wife Janice farm their 230+ ha unit with 160 suckler cows and 600 breeding ewes with a small herd of pedigree Charolais cattle. Andrew's sons farm a nearby tenanted unit which frequently provides replacement breeding stock for Barnbackle. For as long as Andrew can remember, he has been a member of the Union, and got more involved when the consultation for Nithsdale NVZ came out. From there he went onto become vice chairman of the Dumfries branch, and then onto his previous role of Regional Board Chairman for Dumfries and Galloway. He also sat on the LFASS committee. Andrew was elected Vice President in February 2015.

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