While Brexit can be viewed as a very real threat to the future of Scottish agriculture, it must also now be viewed as an opportunity, albeit not an easy one to grasp, according to Jonnie Hall, NFUS director of policy.

Speaking at the Scottish Society for Crop Research’s Soft Fruit winter meeting at the James Hutton Institute, in Dundee, he discussed the current state of Scottish agriculture, what it really delivers, the case for support, the principles upon which it should be built and the conditions that should be attached, plus the influence of the current EU regulatory environment.

“The EU referendum result has shrouded Scottish agriculture in a veil of uncertainty, at a point when confidence was at an all-time low. Brexit will have a very profound impact on Scottish agriculture, in terms of trade, labour supply and future support policy. However, change is required anyway, and Brexit should be the catalyst for change, not the reason for it.”

On a more positive note, the growing UK demand for soft fruits, including strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and even gooseberries has resulted in a new five-year breeding programme for blackberries (what we in Scotland refer to as brambles) at the institute, according to its Nikki Jennings.

Over the past four years, sales of blackberries have almost doubled, having risen from £25m in 2014 to £42m in 2018 and demand is set to rise further along with an expected increase in sales of other soft fruits.

“There is room for expansion in the blackberry market, as consumers look for bigger and sweeter varieties to those on the market at present,” she told delegates attending the meeting.

“Blackberries are more diverse than raspberries and are a hardier fruit with fewer pests and disease issues.”

She added that the institute was using some exciting germ plasm from major blackberry breeding programmes across the world, but she added that one of the biggest issues was getting access to germ plasm from private breeding programmes.

The next stage of the programme, she pointed out, will see on-farm trials with early selections.