By Alasdair Mcnab

So far I’ve looked at the challenges we face in farming. The industry will have to deal with some very big challenges if we want to continue running our own businesses and making the decisions.

I have drawn your attention to the risks with data and antibiotic resistance. My last article reported how we are delivering some fantastic results with reducing antibiotic use. What other challenges are there? My next few articles will cover some more big issues and suggest what we can do to deal with them. What’s first?

It’s about something we farmers in Scotland are not good at and something we are very good at. We are not good at working together yet very good at criticising those who work on behalf of the industry.

A few years ago I realised that I had never been to the local NFUS branch AGM. I decided I would go along. Duh!!

I came away, by default, as the newly ‘elected’ local branch vice-chair. There was no-one else to take it on. This was a defining moment.

I was used to hearing criticism of NFUS for not doing this or that. Nothing changes with time. Recent comments about NFUS include not giving this due attention or they are ‘off trend’ on that. Aren’t we Scots great at complaining?

Three years on and I am now branch chair, attended two NFUS AGMs, sit on the NFUS legal and technical committee and contributed to some of the consultations that NFUS are involved in.

I have met with Andrew McCornick and his vice presidents several times, been greatly impressed with the huge range of work they are involved in, the amount of travel they do and how they take time to visit individual businesses to resolve problems.

A few months ago I asked Andrew if he could pay a visit to a central Scotland farmer whom I met shortly after his resignation from NFUS complaining they hadn’t given sufficient priority to something he felt was important. Andrew duly visited and, after a three hour chat in the kitchen, the farm took up NFUS membership again. What was the turning point?

Andrew took time to explain the range of NFUS activities. Once the family understood all that NFUS does, the family gave their full support. Andrew’s parting shot was “if you’re not happy get involved in your local branch and get it changed.” That is what they are doing.

I can hear the trouble makers in the back row. “Ok Alasdair what does NFUS do for me?”

I put this question to NFUS chief executive Scott Walker. I did not realise the full extent of their activities.

There is a small policy team each of whom has a specific work area supporting the work of the presidential team and covers issues relating to the committee they work for.

Their work covers firstly ‘consultations’, which is the name for the process when government or government agencies ask the public and affected organisations to comment on their thoughts and ideas before bringing in new legislation.

The policy team sends the consultation papers to the branches and ask the members or monitors for their views so a reply from NFUS covering all the different industry views and situations can be given. The approach makes the small NFUS policy team very effective. It is supported by communications and finance teams, regional administration, commercial partnerships and elected volunteers such as branch chairs and committee members.

Examples of some current issues are the Crown Estate strategic plan, local energy policy, control of dogs, and permitted development rights.

Secondly NFUS uses the same process for comments and views on draft legislation. Currently they are responding to the Animal Health and Welfare Bill and the Protection of Wild Mammals Bill.

Thirdly each team is dealing with day to day issues. During November for example:-

The legal and technical team dealt with fuel issues, transport legislation compliance, planning, electronic communications code, dealing with proposals from the Scottish Land Commission, preparation for and attending five meetings.

The climate change team dealt with Scottish Government Local Energy Policy Statement, Climate Change Bill and Climate Change Plan, Air Quality Strategy and preparing for and attending five meetings.

The CAP schemes, next generation, environmental regulations team worked on the Circular Economy Consultation, issues with waste – both plastics and unmarketable fruit and vegetables, Renewal of PPPs – Glyphosate 15 December 2019, SUSSS deadline and issues with weather – potential need for crop diversification rule derogation. On top of this there were seven meetings and conferences at which presentations were made.

The livestock team was engaged in discussions with stakeholders on QMS levy, Beef Efficiency Scheme – seeking detail from Scottish Government on when more information will be shared with farmers following three years of data collection, follow up from a public procurement meeting with deputy First Minister and cabinet secretary, drafting NFU Scotland policy on country of origin labeling post-Brexit, QMS spot checks, the potential January Brexit deadline and the move away from BCMS cts online to ScotEID. In addition there were seven meetings and shows to attend, including the carcase classification scrutiny committee.

Add to these the other teams which cover political affairs (no not that sort of affair), crops, animal health and welfare, pigs and poultry, education and skills, milk, crofting and rural business. All have similar workloads as well as dealing with individual members’ issues.

What is abundantly clear is the huge range of political and social issues which can impact our industry and way of life. We need a way of responding collectively to them all, otherwise vested interests will dictate how we run our businesses and live our lives. This involves working together, one way or another.

What are the facts?

Fact 1 – none of us agree on everything and some of us feel let down if our pet subject appears to be ‘not quite on the list of priorities’.

Fact 2 – NFUS is an understaffed but very effective lobbying organisation which has the ear of government and a reputation as a source of balanced and diverse opinion on Scottish farming and crofting.

Fact 3 – post Brexit and going forward we need a united voice to put our views forward.

Return to Fact 1.

I keep saying we need to keep an eye on the big picture and accept that our individual priorities do not fit at every point. The big picture is our industry faces some very big challenges in the future and we need a collective and unified voice to respond.

Creating another organisation will take a lot of time and money, neither of which we have and will take a lot of time to build any credibility. Having multiple single interest organisations will allow other interests to divide us and rule. We already have a good, effective and reputable organisation to represent our interests. It needs our support and input to make it even more effective.

As Andrew McCornick said, if you don’t like it, get in there and change it to what you want.