Scotland’s agriculture sector needs firm commitments if it is to deliver on ambitions
We must recognise, reward and support the high-quality food and drinks industries that underpin the Scottish economy and post-Covid recovery.
Perthshire captures the whole of Scottish farming in microcosm, from the fertile arable pastures of Strathmore to the challenging conditions of our hill farmers in Highland Perthshire. Added to that is our world-renowned soft fruit sector sitting alongside three of Scotland’s finest whisky distilleries.
Perthshire, with its well-known excellence in produce and high reputation, is therefore looking on anxiously at how the new trading conditions and international agreements will impact our key agricultural sectors.
If there is one word that has summed up Scottish farming in my constituency the past few years it is “uncertainty”. Brexit has been a miserable experience for Scottish farmers and, compounded by Covid, conditions have never been so difficult.
While we evaded the bullet of a no deal Brexit, we now have to figure out the new challenges presented by the variety of non-tariff barriers to our produce and how life beyond CAP single farm payments will work out.
Farmers have raised fears of possible imports of chlorinated chicken or beef fattened with hormones
There are also concerns that the high standards we have in place are compromised in order to secure a trade agreement with America under the terms of the Agriculture Bill. Farmers have raised fears of possible imports of chlorinated chicken or beef fattened with hormones.
We also require a significant seasonal workforce to ensure that our produce is harvested, particularly on soft fruits. This is an issue that I have campaigned on since the threat of losing the right to freedom of movement was identified following our departure from the EU. The Scottish Affairs Committee, which I chair, has repeatedly recommended that numbers for the pilot scheme are increased to match the reality of what is required in the fields. I am delighted that the government has responded positively to this by increasing the numbers to 30,000. Whether this meets demand will become evident when the season gets up and running in the spring.
Scottish farming is exclusively under the responsibility of the Scottish government, and policy development is always taken with a view to Scotland’s unique topography and geography. Different choices will be made in Scotland, and the Scottish government has already said it promises to recognise, reward and support active farming – ensuring no working businesses fall through the net.
Food production will have a greater emphasis than in the rest of the UK, but farms in my constituency will be incentivised to deliver high-quality produce with all the environmental, welfare and high standards that the public expect.
Lastly, there is much to look forward to for Perthshire farmers. The reputation of Scottish food and drink has never been higher, and there is growing interest from the public in the countryside and the provenance of the food we produce. In Perthshire the stories of people working on “the berries” is part of our folklore and involving the public in this history and story is something we look to develop.
Ours is a beautiful part of the country, with a variety of farming, outdoor and leisure activities. If we can marry this new interest in our land with the management of the produce we consume, we can continue to grow our rural success.
Pete Wishart is the Scottish National Party MP for Perth and North Perthshire.