Vice President's Blog - 18 September 2019

Agriculture throughout the UK is long overdue some well-deserved recognition for all it provides but is also in desperate need of a revamp of future policy said Vice President Martin Kennedy when he addressed a fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrat Conference in Bournemouth this week.

Through this whole Brexit mess (and regardless of whether we stay in the EU or not), we now have an opportunity to develop future policy measures.

These must consider a common UK framework about standards and compliance, but also recognise the individual needs and priorities for the devolved administrations to both continue to provide a high-quality product and look after our environment at the same time. 

Each devolved administration – Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland - must have the ability to implement a policy that's right for them to allow agriculture to be profitable. 

Having the tools available, which includes adequate funding, is the only way we can maintain a viable industry that not only produces food but also delivers on things like, climate change, water quality and biodiversity. 

Our support structure now is very much a one size fits all blanket area payment with limited targeting. This does nothing to incentivise much of the industry to drive their businesses forward. 

What we need now is a system that supports the active producer who is keen to embrace technology that not only improves on productivity but also benefits the environment. 

At home, we have adopted GPS soil testing and use variable rate lime and fertiliser applications to both reduce inputs and improve on soil health. 

That is only one simple example, but the reality is that many already use techniques like this but don't get the recognition they deserve. Productivity improvements, reducing inputs and environmental benefits are not mutually exclusive. 

It's been said more than once that if you can't feed your country, you don't have one. What we have in Scotland and the rest of the UK, is the ability to feed ourselves, but unfortunately, we now take food security for granted and expect to consume it at a very low price. 

We used to spend around 40 percent of our income on food, now it's nearer 10 percent and with the costs of production always rising, this is unsustainable. 

This relentless desire to purchase food cheaper and cheaper leads to importing products from other parts of the world where, in many cases, growing and welfare standards are certainly not the same as our own. 

Where's the joined up thinking when it comes to standards, climate change and food miles?

Continually having to defend our role as producers is, quite frankly, unbelievable given that the one thing we, as people, cannot do without is food. 

There are various individuals and organisations who, in their short sightedness, seem desperate to bite the hand that feeds them. 

Of all the land farmed in Scotland and cared for by our farmers and crofters, 85 percent is deemed Less Favoured Area.  This is extremely challenging land but lends itself beautifully to livestock production where cattle and sheep turn vegetation which we cannot eat into a cheap, tasty source of protein.

It is a very climate-friendly, natural process done at a local level, and at the same time assisting in keeping our hillsides in a green, carbon sequestrating state. 

Despite what some would have you believe, farming and crofting plays a massive part in mitigating against greenhouse gas emissions. 

There's no doubt that cattle and sheep release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.  But this is only one part of a very complex picture and an easy target for those who seem to have little interest in the big picture, or recognise the economic, social and environmental benefits that livestock production across Scotland brings. Lose farming, and you lose those too!

It is vital that whether through a UK agriculture bill or, in our case a Scottish rural support bill, we must have the ability to recognise local needs for local farmers, thereby maximising the wider socioeconomic and environmental benefits. 

I'm an eternal optimist and always look on the bright side so I really do believe this is a fantastic opportunity to recast future agricultural policy to deliver on all fronts. 

Ultimately, it's our politicians who will make the final decisions and we elect our politicians to represent us, not themselves. It's incumbent upon them to make the right decisions for our country based on fact not fiction created by ill-informed lobbyists with single agendas. 

We now have a great opportunity to turn this uncertainty into something positive, but it needs to be meaningful and it needs to happen soon, or we risk losing what we already have. 


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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