Union Meets New Defra Secretary of State in Moray

Brexit deal must be a priority for Theresa Villiers says NFUS

NFU Scotland has used its first meeting with new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Theresa Villiers today (18 September) to highlight the unique profile of Scottish agriculture and press for certainty for the industry.

The meeting was hosted by Highland Regional Chair Martin Birse, farms manager for Pitgaveny Farms in Moray, where NFUS took the Secretary of State on a tour of the set-up.  The Union used that as an opportunity to outline the critical importance of UK Government delivering a deal on EU exit which works in the interest of all agricultural sectors and land types.

NFUS attendees included Vice President Charlie Adam, chairmen from the Combinable Crops and Horticultural committees and members of the local NFU Scotland branch.  Top of the agenda for discussion were the Union’s three clear Brexit priorities of future policy support for the sector; trade policies which uphold exacting standards of production; and an immigration policy which meets the needs of the agri-food labour market.

Vice President, Charlie Adam said: “NFUS was pleased to host the new Secretary of State on-farm today.  Pitgaveny Farms produce cereals, beef, pork and lamb and let out land for potatoes and carrots.  Its mix of conventional and organic production and commitment to high quality production provided the Minister with a comprehensive overview of all that our farming can achieve if given the right tools by governments.

“We had a constructive discussion on the unique profile of the industry and the reasons why the devolved delivery of a fully-funded, targeted future support package is so important to the needs of the industry in Scotland.”

Host farmer Martin Birse added: “The uncertainty around farming and crofting has never been higher and a year like this highlights the ongoing need for all sectors to be properly supported in the future.

“The malting barley we have grown on contract this year might make a small profit but for those forced to sell uncontracted malting barley on the spot market, the prices will come nowhere near production costs of around £150 to £160 per tonne and, without support, would be totally unsustainable.

“Beef breeding heifers that we were selling for £1200 this time last year will struggle to make £1000 this year, as Brexit uncertainty continues to undermine the beef market.  While leaving Europe without a deal would undoubtedly have massive implications for our sheep production in the future.

“Farmers and crofters want to run their businesses without support but input costs – particularly in very difficult years like this - are largely beyond our control and market prices are far from reliable.”

Chairman of the Combinable Crops Committee, Ian Sands, a cereal producer from Perthshire said: “NFUS has always been clear that a deal must be found on the terms of the UK’s exit from the EU which ensures that trade can continue on a free and frictionless basis, and that our exacting standards that we are proud to produce to here in Scotland are not undermined by inequivalent imported produce coming cheaply into our domestic market.

“Leaving the EU with no deal on 31 October will not give us that protection or opportunity, particularly if the UK Government’s proposed import tariff schedule is enacted in the event of no deal.

“The proposals as they currently stand set to brutally expose key sectors - including cereals, oilseeds, eggs and horticulture - to the world market, running the risk of prices being undercut by cheaper imported produce produced to poorer standards.

“Today, I impressed upon the Secretary of State why this proposed policy would be such a threat to these sectors and why NFUS is pushing so strongly for this policy to be reconsidered ahead of 31 October.”

Chairman of the Horticulture Working Group, James Porter, who produces soft fruit in Angus said: “The evidence is clear and unequivocal.  The agri-food sector throughout the country depends on a reliable workforce from outside the UK to fill seasonal and permanent posts right through the whole supply chain.

“NFUS is pushing the UK Government relentlessly to ensure its approach to immigration and the labour market recognise this plain fact.  NFUS is particularly concerned that the UK Government’s proposals in the event of no deal could expose those sectors that strongly depend on seasonal staff to severe shortages - an oversight which must be corrected, and soon.

“I strongly encouraged the new Secretary of State to impress this fact upon her counterparts within the Home Office.”  

Notes to editors

  • A photograph of Defra Secretary of State visiting Pitgaveny Farms at Elgin in Moray is attached.
  • Details on Pitgaveny Farms is available at:


Contact Bob Carruth on 0131 472 4006

Author: Bob Carruth

Date Published:

News Article No.: 130/19

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About The Author

Bob Carruth

A dairy farmer’s son, I joined NFU Scotland in 1999 after 13 years as an agricultural journalist. Following spells as a regional manager and policy lead on milk, livestock and animal health and welfare, I became Communications Director in 2008.

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