Robin Traquair Reflects on His First Year in Office

This time last year I decided that I would run for the position of NFU Scotland Vice President. Over the years I had been very involved in SAYFC and at both branch and regional level of NFUS. I have always enjoyed the discussion of Agri politics – it never stops. Farming is always evolving and bearing in mind that Brexit was the key topic of the discussion at the end of 2020, I felt that there was never going to be a more interesting and challenging time to stand. After having a lengthy discussion with my wife, Anna, we decided that the timing seemed right as far as our business was concerned. After all the pig industry was buoyant and our staffing situation on farm was settled.

Instantly new skills had to be learnt. Videos had to be recorded for posting online, and as learning scripts had never been my strong point a quick tutorial on the use of an autocue was required. The iPhone/camera was ‘blu- tac’d’ to the table and away I went. The hustings were online rather than the usual road trip around the regions of Scotland. In normal times we would get a feel of whether the room accepted your views or not. Speaking down a camera it was hard to guage the mood and the impression you were making.

From a technical point of view I was amazed at how well the NFU Scotland team made everything run so smoothly - having never been in this position before, all credit is due to them.

So, on Friday 12th February, Martin was voted in as President and Andrew and I as the Vice Presidents. The following week we got straight into it - Monday morning was our first Presidents Committee Meeting (PCM), Tuesday was the Board meeting, Wednesday a call between NFUS and QMS, and Friday morning was another PCM along with another 3 meetings. My farm staff wondered where on earth I was!

Vice Presidents sit on committees, and I was lucky enough to be on Legal & Technical, Livestock, Poultry, Next Generation, Tenants Working Group, and Pigs. Emails came thick and fast.

My first branch invite, again on Zoom, was Westray - just about as far away from Midlothian as you can get! Our chairman for the evening gave me a run down on issues facing farming on the island. Branch meetings are one of the best things about being involved with NFU Scotland as you get first-hand information on the issues being faced by fellow farmers across the country. That meeting with Westray profoundly set out in my mind the challenges that we, as an organisation, face when we lobby the Scottish and Westminster Governments on how we must keep our farming and crofting communities successful and profitable.

In early Spring we had a lot of consultations and discussions - tenancy assignation, BVD, and Bovine EID - but the two biggest ones which stick in my mind as they are so fundamentally important for us to challenge were the Slurry and Silage Storage and UK Transport consultations. The first has the potential to cost farmers many thousands of pounds to upgrade their facilities, while the initial rules proposed in the animal transport consultation were simply unworkable. These are issues we will continue working in the New Year to address.

Having now left the EU, the UK is free to trade on its own terms and our Westminster Government have signed off on an Australia FTA, with agreements with New Zealand and many other countries likely just around the corner. Though concern remains that these deals could threaten and challenge our industry, as countries with different production systems are granted unfettered access to UK markets, these agreements will also offer the chance for farmers to get together and find new opportunities to export their fantastic products. I am a great believer in searching for and finding opportunities which I am convinced will be there.

This year has seen some parts of Scottish agriculture performing robustly and long may it continue. At the same time we have also seen huge increases in input costs. The pig sector has taken a dramatic downward turn and staffing on farm and in processing plants has been extremely challenging. It just shows us how quickly our industry can change. Many of our friends and neighbours may be finding life difficult at the moment, and it is therefore important to keep an eye on them and get together whenever we can.

One of my duties this last year was, and still is, Health and Safety. This was a challenging part of my remit as I was notified of each tragic accident that occurred on farm. Each case left behind loved ones to pick up the pieces, and most, if not all, could have been avoided. I would like to take this time to remind of the importance, whilst on farm, of re-thinking the risk!

As highlights go, there have been many. I have enjoyed working closely with NFU Scotland staff, who have all been willing to lend a hand and offer advice from their own experiences. Another moment that sticks in the memory was a grounding, but amusing comment made whilst interviewing for a vacancy - “I intend to be here when both of you are gone”. And this person did get the job!

Looking ahead to the coming year I hope that we will be able to resume face-to-face meetings with members, as nothing can replace getting out and meeting people first-hand. The return of much missed local shows would also be welcomed. And of course, a clear direction of where Scottish agriculture is heading will be paramount.

I would like to conclude by wishing you and your families a fantastic Christmas and a happy New Year.

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