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NFU Scotland head-to-head with Mairi Gougeon

AgriScot crowds gathered in their droves to share their frustrations on a range of issues plaguing Scotland’s agricultural sector, during a busy seminar programme.

The one-hour NFUS session, saw President Martin Kennedy and Cabinet Secretary Mairi Gougeon tackle issues ranging from support for Scotland’s pig sector and forestry tensions, to an update on farmer led policy groups and delays to the new agricultural system to replace the CAP.

NFUS pig’s chairman Jamie Wyllie opened up questions with a plea for help for the pig sector, ‘We wrote to the Scottish Government asking for help, you said no. We can’t help with the cost-of-living crisis and the climate emergency if we can’t pay our bills.’

Ms Gougeon responded, referencing three rounds of funding which had been made available under the pig hardship scheme but admitted that it was ‘drop in the ocean of the support that was needed’, promising not to rule out future support, saying ‘no stone would be unturned’.

Mr Kennedy took the opportunity to raise the issue of African Swine Fever and the further challenge it poses to an already struggling pig sector. He urged for checks on inputs coming into the country and stressed how both businesses were being undermined and their biosecurity put at risk by the constant delays. He said: “It is it is unbelievable considering 21 out of 22 lorries checked recently had illegal meat on board, including 2.5t of pork. If ever there was an easy route for African Swine Fever then this is it, as if the pig sector hasn’t suffered enough. I urge you to put pressure on the UK Government to address this.”

A farmer from Dumfries reported that five sheep farms in his area had gone to tree planting and questioned if there would be an industry left? Ms Gougeon replied that less than 2% of prime land was being looked at for trees, adding ‘ultimately, we want to get the right tree in the right place, we know that there is more capacity there for integrated land use and we want to explore this.’

Mr Kennedy raised the issue in his opening speech, stating: “The most galling thing is the fact that many of these areas are planted for offsetting emissions of industries who are doing nothing to address their own emissions reduction. This must stop, we cannot continue to push people off the land who have been integral to rural communities. We need to have policies in place that allows for integration of trees and farming.”

Doug Bell, CEO of the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association, and a representative of the recently established Food & Agriculture Stakeholders’ Taskforce (FAST), challenged Ms Gougeon to include the farming industry in the co-design of future agriculture policy. He called for ‘constructive engagement moving forward’, to which she replied that she would meet with the group but referenced her engagement with industry through the ARIOB board, which Mr Kennedy co-chairs alongside her.

The Cabinet Secretary was pushed on the ‘slow pace’ of delivery of the Ag Bill, with farmers raising concerns about ‘four years of talks, expert panels and promises’, yet ongoing uncertainty and a lack of detail in the current proposals.

Ms Gougeon defended the pace of the Ag Bill, saying ‘We have to balance the ambition of our approach with the need to take the industry with us’, adding her assurances that there would be ‘no cliff edges for the industry’.

Mr Kennedy highlighted the problems south of the border with the ELMS scheme being revisited and stressed that Scotland couldn’t afford to make a similar mistake.

“Yes, we have to move fast but we have to move in the right direction. Now we are seeing a real review of what is happening south of the border, people are going off the cliff edge, we can’t afford to do that In Scotland. It is better to take time to get it right and showcase our ability to take the lead when it comes to future support.

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