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Vice President's Blog - 14 August 2019

The BBC nationally need to take a real good look at themselves and start reporting the real facts in a balanced manner instead of misrepresenting views and reports writes Vice President Martin Kennedy.

Some recent reporting is being done in a manner that not only undermines the integrity of what should be a highly thought of British organisation, but also has massive implications on an agricultural industry that has welfare standards and environmental credentials that are the envy of most across the world.

That is why NFUS has written in the strongest terms to the BBC this week to complain about its poor reporting around the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report last week.

The report calls for change in all industries, and I fully agree that all industries including agriculture must change.

But if you read the BBC headlines or listened to the national news, you would believe the IPCC report gives its support to a vegetarian or vegan diet.  It did not.

The IPCC news release is quite explicit.  It states: “Balanced diets featuring plant-based foods, such as coarse grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables, and animal-sourced food produced sustainably in low greenhouse gas emission systems, present major opportunities for adaptation to and limiting climate change.”

That is not reflected in the BBC headlines and, regrettably, all the above are being reared or grown in Scotland.

Instead, the BBC, on its national news tarred Scottish and UK farming with the same climate change stick as irresponsible countries across the world.

The global report highlights the need to preserve and restore forests which soak up carbon from the air. What the beeb completely failed to acknowledge is that we do that admirably here in Scotland.  We are not like several South American countries where large scale deforestation makes way for cattle production.

Indeed, in comparison to where we were in Scotland in 1900 when only 5% of our land was in forestry, we now have 17% covered in trees with targets to get to 21%. These figures were ably put over on the BBC Scotland’s ‘The Nine’ programme by Jim McLaren and yet the BBC’s national news programmes seemed hell bent on giving us a kicking.

'Sustainably produced' is the key phrase here and Scottish farming and crofting is unique.

We use our large forage areas in Scotland to grow livestock to produce essential protein. This grazing process, alongside an ample supply of water, is not only sustainable but also helps keep our grasslands and uplands in a carbon sequestrating state, and at the same time creates fantastic scenery and biodiversity which is famous the world over and key to our successful tourism industry.

Our industry is not based on deforestation; it does not have feedlot systems where traceability is non-existent, and we do not have an attitude where profit is more important than animal welfare.

Let's be fully aware that growing protein crops on our marginal land that currently has the capability to rear livestock sustainably is crazy. This action would require us to plough and cultivate much more challenging land thus releasing a lot more carbon.

What we do here in Scotland is cultivate our prime and more fertile land in a highly responsible manner.  It only amounts to around 8% of our farmed land, but it is extremely important in terms of Scottish food and drink production and the revenue it generates.

With the technology that our arable sector has embraced over the last number of years, our ability to look after and improve our soils has vastly improved.  

This has two massive benefits.  Firstly, it allows our arable farmers to be productive and efficient in an environmentally friendly way therefore reducing the carbon footprint of food production.  Secondly, with the use of accurate soil testing and variable rate nutrient applications, using GPS technology, we can maintain and improve our soil’s carbon capturing capabilities, something that other sectors could embrace more.

Even if we were to adopt the idea of cultivating more of our marginal land, we wouldn’t come close to growing enough protein for our nation.

Some might ask if that is that a problem?  Absolutely not if you are content to import that huge volume of food from other parts of the world. So let’s be crystal clear, that imported meat would certainly not have the story to tell that we do in Scotland. In effect, we could be helping the economy of those who don't give a damn about climate change and, at the same time, we would be completely crippling our own rural economy.

The stupidity of that approach completely flies in the face of climate change mitigation. We are world leading on this. That’s plain to see when you look at where carbon is stored across the world. Hundreds of years of farming and crofting has helped create a landscape we can be proud of.

We must stop looking at everything in silos when it comes to climate change.  There's so much at risk here - food security, biodiversity, rural economy - all these things are positive with a thriving agricultural industry, but without them, we lose our opportunity to be a solution to climate change itself.

In Scotland, we continue to have a great relationship with the BBC and are grateful of the coverage afforded to our food and drink sectors.  But it's bloody high time the BBC at a UK level started to properly represent our farming industry, one we can be seriously proud of when it comes to our growing standards and our positive environmental contribution.

If, like me, you also feel frustrated by the BBC and its coverage of food, farming, climate change or the environment then I urge you to follow our example and contact the BBC.  Please email: media@nfus.org.uk and we can provide details on the complaints procedure.

Author: Martin Kennedy

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James Duncan Millar

119 days ago

Well done Martin. You express the problem clearly and eloquently. We need a far less aggressive and confrontational approach not only from the media but also from the many pressure groups who do not care to others with differing or even opposing views.
John Locke

113 days ago

I emailed BBC with similar comments and more members should to highlight these benefits. I also contacted Goldsmiths university on their beef ban and had a full response about all the other measures and that it was the media which chose to headline on the beef ban.
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About The Author

Martin Kennedy

Martin Vice President of NFU Scotland and is a tenant farmer in Highland Perthshire and farms with his wife Jane and three daughters, Jillian, Katrina and Yvonne. They have 600 ewes and 60 cows on the farm rising from 800ft to over 2,500ft. Martin served two years as Highland Perthshire branch chairman, before representing East Central region on the LFA committee in 2009. Martin then went on to be vice chairman then chaired the committee for three years. He has served as Vice President of NFUS for two years and is currently sitting on his third.

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