Vice President's Blog - 24 August 2020

While the UK is officially in recession, the question now is where we go from here and what lessons have been learned because of this pandemic asks Vice President Martin Kennedy.

Recession was expected given what the whole country has come through with Covid-19 and the knock-on effect the pandemic has had on people’s ability to keep spending.  There are, however, positives to build on.

First, there has been a massive change in people’s understanding and recognition of where our food comes from.  This is very evident when speaking to local butchers who have been run off their feet supplying our consumers with high quality home-grown produce.

This increased demand for our excellent, sustainable home-produced meat has led to a well overdue increase in the farm gate price which, after such a long period of unsustainable returns, is very welcome.

From an arable perspective, the same should apply, whether it is malting barley or soft fruit and veg, we should be following a strategy of Scottish first.

If there is not enough supply to fill the demand then by all means use product from the rest of the UK and only revert to imports if it is simply not here or cannot be grown here.

Panic buying and empty shelves at the start of lockdown means that many more people are now aware of what food security actually means, not just in terms of having enough but also how their food has been grown and reared, taking into account animal welfare and production standards.

We all need to do our bit to get this message across.  Along with other levy bodies, Quality Meat Scotland’s current ‘Make it’ campaign is creating a better understanding of both how simple it is to produce fantastic meals cost effectively and at the same time highlight the advantages of supporting the high standards of our products is really hitting the spot.

The full backing from both Westminster and Scottish governments in this campaign needs to continue as investment in agriculture and the processing of its products leads to more jobs and added value, with the spend staying within our shores.  

Scottish agriculture is prepared to lead the way with sustainable food production and, provided there’s commitment to support its products, then lessons can be learned which could be applied to other industries.

Recently I spoke to a local business to order some supplies for a bit of fencing.  My order was for some 50mm weld mesh and some rabbit netting. I was blown over with the reply which was “sorry we’ve none in stock just now as that all comes from China.”

What a complete disappointment when you think of how highly the quality of British steel was regarded right across the world.  I am sure many farmers and crofters can relate to the durability of a Fergie 794 bar point and how simply indestructible it seemed to be.

Now we just import and, to add insult to injury, British steel has now been bought over by a Chinese company. Even our so called iconic Queensferry crossing had 75% of its steel imported. It may be ‘steel’ miles rather than food miles, but I wonder what that decision did for climate change.

If we want to bounce back from where we are now then it is imperative that we invest not just in primary production, but in the processing of products.

That will not only add value, that we will benefit from, but will also create jobs and potentially reinvigorate industries that sadly seem long gone.

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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