Summer shows provide perfect platform for debate

This summer has seen many challenges come to the fore again and the return of Summer shows has provided a tremendous opportunity to engage with members across the country writes Vice President Andrew Connon.  

In addition to four tremendous days of member engagement at the Highland Show, the show season has taken me from my local show at New Deer, to Stranraer, Nairn, Turriff, Black Isle and Kintyre.

Many miles covered but a huge number of conversations had around the country and, with the note book at hand and a listening ear, being at these shows has been invaluable in gauging NFUS Members concerns and issues.

Common themes emerged including input cost inflation, eroding or negative margins, volatile prices, lack of labour, stock numbers being reduced or dispersed and an uncertain policy landscape that left an inability to plan.

We really are in hellish challenging times and despite prices for outputs rising, the price volatility of input costs is eroding producer confidence. This year is challenging enough but should input costs remain high then 2023 will be another tough year for our industry.

Electricity costs alone are quadrupling for some food and farming businesses who grow, store and freeze our produce – that is sector threatening and I urge all to complete our electricity cost survey at:

Travelling the country and listening has reminded me of how interlinked Scottish sectors are be it East Coast mixed farmers buying stock from the hills or the fact that our pig and poultry sectors are massive consumers of Scottish wheat and barley.  We must have prosperity across all sectors!

To illustrate the volatility, the fact that cereal prices have fallen approx. £100 per tonne in the last 2 months and the shine starts to come off the combinable crops sector which had seen prices, further strengthened by the war in Ukraine, just keeping out in front of inputs costs.

The combinable crops harvest to date has been good for most producers so far. Decent yields, early harvest dates and low moistures have been extremely welcomed but producers are mindful that a lot of the harvest is still to secure and with rain now falling and more forecast producers are cautious to comment until harvest is complete

The pig crisis continues to be a massive concern to our industry.  Despite rising pigment prices to producers, the excessive rise in inputs exaggerated by the terrible situation in Ukraine continues to see producers losing over £50/pig sold at least until home produced grains have been harvested.  As a Union we continue to push the Scottish Government hard to support an Ongoers Loan Scheme to help restructure debts and give a much-needed boost to cash flow. Being based in Aberdeenshire I am surrounded by many high performing, very efficiently managed pig units and it is essential for Scottish agriculture, the rural economy and the entire supply chain that our pig industry can be maintained despite the horrendous financial challenges being encountered.  

A visit to the Potatoes in Practice early in August highlighted for me the importance of this sector in contributing to agricultural output and to the huge supply trade network that the potato industry supports. We heard of the launch of the Scottish Seed Potato Organisation as a replacement to AHDB Potatoes whilst input costs, the continued EU ban on our seed potatoes, issues with shipping, restricted port facilities for the export of seed and the precarious state of the ware sector driven by the brutal retailer influence on prices were main points for discussion

The challenges at farm level are set against a policy backdrop where we appear, at this moment, to be under a barrage of Scottish Government consultations continue to roll out on the likes of future policy, land use, land reform, agricultural tenancies, wages, biodiversity and more.  

The length of these consultations and the political speak/wording used whilst the lack of common sense and simplification continues to aggravate the hell out of me!  It is obvious that too many of these consultations are being created within silos with a lack of joined up thinking – and practical thinking - to tie in with other Government strategies, not least the future direction of agricultural policy.  On that, NFU Scotland at all levels has been crystal clear that the pace of change and setting the direction of travel has been unacceptably slow, sparking huge frustration at farm and croft level.  

So here continues to be plenty for NFUS to go at, whether that be the Presidential team, board, the head office and regional team, group secretaries and members, to defend and promote our fantastic industry, Scotland’s farmers and crofters and our much-valued membership.

It is worth remembering we have something worth fighting for.  At a time when food prices are rising, though not fast enough for some sectors, fellow Vice President Robin Traquair and I got an amazing reality check whilst having breakfast at our B and B in Kirkwall recently. Sitting with a young Canadian couple, it was interesting to hear of their tour of Britain and how impressed they were.  

However, I was taken aback when the young gentleman stated he was” furious at his Canadian Government” – the reason being “In the UK, food is of such a better quality, and it is so cheap compared to my Canadian homeland!”

Food is not expensive in this country.  It has been too cheap for too long and it’s time this industry got adequately paid for the quality produce reared and grown by our farmers and crofters.  

It was great to reassure farmers and crofters face-to-face at shows this season that the hard work to deliver profitability goes on.

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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