THE start of the new year saw the UK agree a new trade deal with Europe – but it was far from all good news for Scottish seed potato growers.

Under the deal, almost all food and plant exports from Great Britain to the EU can continue after Brexit, including ware potatoes – but seed potatoes weren’t included.

The broader agricultural industry was given ‘third country equivalence’, meaning that the European Commission will recognise its regulatory, supervisory and enforcement regime as equivalent to its own, but the faster-moving regulations around seed potato health could not be accommodated within that deal.

Defra stated: “Unfortunately, the EU confirmed they will not accept our case for a permanent change to the prohibition on seed potatoes … on the grounds that there is no agreement for GB to be dynamically aligned with EU rules.”

The split between the UK and EU on these rules also meant that exports of seed potatoes will be barred from GB to Northern Ireland.

Livestock farmers also saw in the new year facing ‘huge consequences’ if the wrong decisions were made as a result of Defra’s consultation on animal transport.

NFU Scotland vice-president, Charlie Adam, stressed that the union’s membership ‘really needed to be heard’ in evidence gathering for any new legislation that might emerge, to ensure that Westminster MPs understood the necessity of livestock movement’s around Scotland’s stratified sector.

Mr Adam said that NFUS planned to direct ‘significant time and resource’ into its response to both Defra’s consultation, and the parallel exercise being conducted by the Scottish Government.

The consultation related to journeys in (or partly in) England and Wales – and its key elements were a proposed ban on the live export of stock for further finishing or slaughter, and across-the -board restrictions on journey length and conditions, including outside temperature during transport, headroom and stocking density.

The Scottish consultation, meanwhile, looks at the Farm Animal Welfare Council report into animal transport and seeks views on how Scotland might implement the report’s recommendations.

Mr Adam said: “The ability to transport livestock safely is central to the Scottish livestock industry and I have taken more calls on this single issue in the past few weeks than any other policy subject.

“Regardless of whether journeys are made by land or sea, Scotland has an excellent record in ensuring all animal health and welfare requirements in transit are met,” he insisted.

A number of agricultural stalwarts were recognised in the year’s New Year Honours List, which celebrates outstanding achievements and contributions to British society.

Devonshire dairy farmer, Di Wastenage, who is vice chair of the Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers, became a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) for her services to the UK dairy industry.

Mrs Wastenage is an ambassador for women in farming and through her role as Patron of Women in Dairy, she showcases the importance of female roles and the exciting opportunities there are for women in the sector. She was also involved in creating the ambitious targets for reducing antibiotic usage within the dairy sector.

Commenting on the accolade, Mrs Wastenage said: “I am delighted to be awarded the MBE and I am proud to be representing the farming sector both locally and nationally especially during these challenging and dynamic times.

“Receiving this honour has come as a complete surprise and has ensured this tough year finishes on a very positive note.”

Britain should act like a global leader when it comes to exploring genetic engineering and shouldn’t be ‘hanging on to the coat-tails’ of Brussels.

That was the message from Defra minister, George Eustice, during the Oxford Farming Conference press briefing, while he was met by criticism by Scottish and Welsh farming ministers who urged the UK Government to await the EU’s findings on gene editing which were due in the spring.

Scotland’s Fergus Ewing MSP warned that Defra’s recently launched consultation to explore public feeling towards gene editing – with a view to legalise the technology – was premature.

“Rather than pick a fight with the EU, it would be more prudent to work with them and see what the Commission’s conclusions are,” said Mr Ewing.

“I do think it is premature to rush ahead with a consultation in the circumstances, where it would surely be preferable to wait and work with the EU so that the questions, for example, about access to markets, and uncertainties which may arise in future because of the difficulties in tracing gene editing, would perhaps not arise.

“In practice, there are very few gene edited products in circulation so it may be several years before there is any change in England if it goes ahead, but we have, in Scotland, reservations about this.”

Mr Eustice disagreed: “What we are now able to do through techniques like gene editing is to more accurately move traits within the same species in a way that could happen naturally, and which therefore respects the rules of nature.

“It gives us power to evolve plant varieties with particular traits far faster than was ever possible with conventional breeding and this opens up huge opportunities to change our approach and embrace sustainable farming.”

January saw many farmers notice an influx of visitors to their fields after a snowfall – local people wanting to sledge, but who don’t have their own facilities to do so.

The majority of the time, this isn’t an issue. However, when these visitors don’t treat farmland with respect, and take advantage of a farmer’s goodwill during a global pandemic, these situations can often become problematic.

This happened in the Ayrshire village of Straiton, and its surrounding area. With the village having been touted on wider social media as ‘the best place to visit for snow and sledging’, locals have seen an unprecedented number of visitors, with some holding apparently no regard for lockdown measures.

Local farmer, Ross Paton, explained: “The main area of trouble for us is the field at Straiton, next to the school. I’ve taken pictures of some of the rubbish and they’ve been shared on social media, but to be honest it’s just a small portion of what was left behind. It has come to the stage we won’t be able to allow people into the fields to sledge, which would be a real shame. It’s great seeing kids enjoying themselves but unfortunately it’s getting out of hand.”

“White Tailed Eagles are a top predator that need to be managed by man before it’s too late and there are no hill sheep left on the West Coast.”

Farmers and crofters feeling the impact of WTEs on their flocks called for action to relocate a ‘few’ problem birds which are found to cause serious agricultural damage and for increased funding to be made available to those businesses being hit hardest by predation.

Last year, farmers and crofters were given the opportunity to share their thoughts on the current WTE action plan and suggest changes moving forward – with revisions to the current action plan due to be announced this spring.

A survey carried out by NFU Scotland found that 61% of the 41 respondents reported predation levels on their flocks had increased since the action plan was implemented in 2017.

Farmers and crofters pointed to increasing WTE numbers and a lack of alternative food sources for the birds. There was praise for NatureScot’s efforts to increase human activity on the hill to scare off birds, but this appears to have moved the problem to neighbouring farms. WTE numbers are forecast to expand from the 130 pairs recorded in 2017 to 900 pairs by 2040.

Lewis crofter Donald MacKinnon was appointed as the new chair for the council of the Scottish Crofting Federation.

The SCF board and council has held its first 2021 meeting, setting priorities for the year ahead, and putting Mr MacKinnon into the chair.

“As the only organisation dedicated to campaigning for crofters and fighting for the future of crofting, this year is going to be busy with many fronts to cover on behalf of crofters,” said Mr MacKinnon, “Leaving Europe, the single market and the customs union will bring many challenges with regards to trading livestock and meat, and croft production generally.

“A new agricultural support system is being developed for UK and Scotland now that we are no longer in the Common Agriculture Policy, and crofting must be represented, especially for support to the more challenged and fragile areas. It is absolutely imperative that crofters join together under one banner to protect our rights.”

A ban on live exports for fattening and slaughter was cited as being ‘catastrophic’ for Scotland’s red meat supply chain and island communities.

Industry leaders sent a clear message to the UK Government that it must fully consider the impact a ban could have on farm businesses.

Defra’s consultation on ‘improvements to animal welfare in transport’ was extended to February 25. An investigation was launched by the House of Commons Efra Select Committee into how new rules following Brexit will impact on animal welfare, disease control and industry interests.

Concerns were voiced by NFU Scotland vice-president, Charlie Adam, who has already raised the problems a ban could present for island communities with Defra ministers on a number of occasions.

Dog attacks were still an unfortunately hot topic in 2021. A farmer from Ayrshire was left devastated by a third dog attack on his flock in six months, after a dog owner fled the scene after it killed two sheep.

Billy Andrews of Oaklea Farm near Auchincruive got a call to say that his sheep were being worried and that another dog walker was trying to catch the out-of-control dog.

Mr Andrews told The SF that he got to the scene within minutes but the dog owner responsible had ‘hot-footed it without a trace’.

“By the time I arrived, two ewes were lying dead with another needing immediate treatment,” he said. “We gave her anti-inflammatories and antibiotics and a treatment for twin lamb disease and she is thankfully making a recovery. The rest of the sheep were all hunched up in a group with steam rising from their bodies from all the stress,” he continued. “Yesterday could have been carnage if we hadn’t got there as quick, thankfully another dog walker brought it to a halt by chasing the loose dog away from the sheep.

“Only that morning we had put energy blocks out for the ewes and were commenting on how well they were looking, not knowing that three hours later two of them wouldn’t be with us.”

Unfortunately, this was not the first time Mr Andrews has had problems with uncontrolled dogs chasing and attacking his sheep.

World Limousin cattle records were well and truly blown out of the water when a 14-month-old heifer from Christine Williams and Paul Tippetts, sold for 250,000gns at a joint herd sale at Carlisle.

Wilodge Poshspice an ET calf from the Shropshire-based herd from Shifnal, doubled the previous best of 125,000gns paid for the Illingworth family’s Glenrock Illusion, sold at the herd dispersal in 2014.

The result of a frozen embryo, bought privately from Will Smith of the Milbrook herd from Co Meath, she was bred from the top show cow, Milbrook Gingerspice, a Wilodge Vantastic daughter that boasts no fewer than 32 championships, and 18 inter-breed titles to include three at Balmoral, in just three years.

Sired by Ampertaine Elgin, Poshspice is also a full ET sister to the 25,000gns Grahams Malibu, along with the show winning, Grahams Melody and Grahams Michael, sold by Robert Graham.

Poshspice sold in a two-way split to Charlie Boden of the Sportsmans herd from Mellor, Stockport and Allan Jenkinson, buying for the Whinfellpark herd from Penrith. Northern Ireland breeder, Trevor Shields, who owns the successful pig business, Glenmarshal Sires was the second last bidder.


DAIRY farmers went into February with a glimmer of hope for a fairer future, with the news that their sector was to be brought under a statutory code of conduct reining in the power of milk buyers.

For decades, milk producers had been calling for a rebalancing of risk and reward in their supply chain – a lobbying effort that led to 2020’s 12-week national consultation seeking views on how dairy contracts and relationships could be improved, which generated a huge grassroots response calling for change.

As a direct result of that consultation, the UK Government and devolved administrations announced that they will now collaborate to develop a new statutory code of conduct for the sector, with both producers and processors at the table.

Last year, NFU Scotland’s milk committee chairman, Gary Mitchell, was instrumental in encouraging producers to respond to the consultation. This week he hailed the results as a ‘great milestone’ for both the dairy sector, and the rest of productive Scottish farming.

“First of all, I want to say a big thank you to all the Scottish dairy farmers who took the time to fill this in,” said Mr Mitchell.

“It’ll be at least 10 years we’ve spent getting to this point,” he noted, recalling that the sting in the tail of the previous voluntary code had been the promise that, if it didn’t work, a legislated code would be the next step.

“I am just delighted that this didn’t end up stuck in a cupboard somewhere – Brexit and Covid-19 could have seen it kicked into the long grass – but the Government and devolved administrations have seen this through. I’d certainly credit George Eustice for his support here.

“All we want is a long-term sustainable future for dairying,” he stressed. “I want Scottish dairy farmers to be able to produce milk in confidence and work with their processors without fear. The code has to help the whole sector. We all know processors are being squeezed as well."

The industry mourned a massive figure this month, as tributes were paid to Donald Biggar, who died suddenly.

An influential figure on many levels within the industry, these were led by his friend and NFUS Stewartry branch secretary, Michael Coutts and NFU Scotland president, Andrew McCornick.

Mr Biggar was a lifelong member of the Stewartry branch, a member of the branch’s executive for more than 40 years and president of the branch in 1987/88, going on to serve as area president in 1996/97.

Mr Coutts said: “Donald was NFUS area president at the time of the famous ‘Beef Blockades’ at Stranraer – a very challenging time for the union. He was the voice of reason and diplomacy when feelings were high and tempers too!

“Recognising the need for change within the union, Donald was the proposer for Jim Walker’s nomination as president at the subsequent NFU council elections. His skills at chairing a meeting were legendary and his ability to let all have their say, sum up the whole discussion and arrive at a decision were a joy to behold, making the job of whoever was taking the minutes an easy one indeed.

“Donald was also very much involved locally at the time of foot-and-mouth in 2001. Along with others, he represented Dumfries and Stewartry NFUS in meetings with the regional council in attempts to halt the spread of the disease and could be relied on to take a sensible and pragmatic view on proposals that were put forward.”

Farmers accused supermarkets of failing to support the pig sector after a high proportion of non-British pork was found on shop shelves.

NFU Scotland’s latest shelf watch discovered that less than half the fresh pork on offer in Tesco and Asda had been found to come from British or Scottish farms.

The union contacted all major supermarkets to urge for a stronger commitment to domestic sourcing, to support local farmers and to meet climate change targets.

Scottish pork production had faced disruption during the pandemic. Strict safety measures in abattoirs led to a backlog in pigs, compounded by temporary closures as a result of Covid-19 outbreaks.

Exports had also been made more challenging due to Brexit and prices have fallen below the cost of production, exacerbated by cheaper supplies being sourced from Europe.

While some supermarkets are 100% committed to Scottish or British pork, or have a strong presence of home-produced products, others, particularly Tesco and Asda, are falling well short of what farmers and consumers would expect.

Scotland’s flagship farming event announced that it was still planning go ahead in June, despite UK-wide show cancellations.

The Royal Highland Show team were working closely with the Scottish Government to develop guidance that would allow them to hold the event safely this June.

The new Members Pavilion lent itself to the Covid-19 vaccination effort, offering its space to support around 7000 vaccinations a week.

RHASS’ director of operations, Mark Currie said: “On Wednesday February 3, our new Members Pavilion was transformed into an NHS vaccination centre, and with the encouraging news of the successful vaccine rollout we remain optimistic about delivering the best show possible this year.

“I’m sure that you will have seen the recent cancellation of some other large-scale events and the postponement of some major agricultural shows as well,” he continued. “Whilst they have chosen to cancel or postpone, they will have done this within the context of their own local situation.

“We are fully aware and appreciate that, with the ever-evolving nature of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is a chance that the Royal Highland Show may not be able to go ahead, however at this moment in time we remain positive and thank you all for your continued support.”

In what was described as a ‘decisive rejection’ of the statutory levy that supports the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, an official ballot of horticultural growers voted 61% in favour of bringing it to an end.

Opponents of the levy forced the vote upon the AHDB by raising a petition with enough sector signatories to trigger the process – and as a result, growers Simon Redden, John Bratley and Peter Thorold, all of Lincolnshire, may forever more be known as the ‘AHDB petitioners’.

Welcoming the result of the official ballot, the petitioners said that it had come as ‘no surprise’, given the findings of their own research last summer, which had strongly indicated that growers did not want the statutory levy in horticulture to continue.

However, they also expressed concerns about AHDB’s reaction to the result of the ballot, which seemed to move away from the ‘one business, one vote’ principle upon which decision-making had previously been founded.

After five long years on the statute books, legislation giving new freedoms to secure farming tenants would came into force at the end of February.

The relinquishment and assignation legislation was introduced by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016, to allow secure tenants to offer to relinquish their tenancy to their landlord in exchange for statutory compensation based on an independent valuation of the tenancy and the tenant’s improvements.

Crucially, if the landlord does not wish to pay the tenant the statutory valuation, the tenant is free to assign the tenancy for value to a new entrant or a progressing farmer.

The Tenant Farming Commissioner Bob McIntosh said: “The legislation has a dual purpose. We know that many tenants are often reluctant to retire or give up a secure tenancy because of the financial consequences of doing so. The new arrangements will enable tenants to realise the value in a secure tenancy when they relinquish it and this may release more tenanting opportunities for new entrants to farming.

“If the landlord chooses not to ‘buy’ the tenancy, the tenant can assign the tenancy for value to someone who qualifies as a new entrant to farming or as someone who is progressing within the sector. The ‘price’ of the tenancy will be a matter for negotiation and the incoming tenant will take on the tenancy on the existing terms and at the same rent.”

With increasing numbers of devastating dog attacks on livestock being reported, the National Sheep Association launched its ‘2021 sheep worrying by dogs’ survey, and invited all UK sheep farmers to contribute to this important piece of research.

The survey aimed to gather data and inform policy direction on the problem, that appears to have been growing in both case numbers and severity over the past year.

NSA chief executive, Phil Stocker, said: “For many years NSA has been engaged in trying to highlight the serious issue of sheep worrying attacks by dogs. This has seen us involved in many discussions with rural police forces, animal welfare charities, the veterinary sector and of course Government as we have, alongside others, called for changes in legislation to protect sheep farmers and their stock.”

Scottish farmers reacted against DEFRA’s proposals on livestock transport – and warned of the ‘huge disruption’ that it would cause if they passed into law.

Concerned individuals and organisations were being encouraged to reply to the last day of Westminster’s consultation on new restrictions and conditions on transport, with NFU Scotland president Martin Kennedy slamming DEFRA’s ‘deeply flawed’ thinking.

The proposed changes caused consternation amongst all involved in the livestock industry across Scotland, particularly those in remote areas and the Northern and Western Isles where essential livestock movements involve longer journey times often including shipment of live animals by sea.


MARCH kicked off with the great news that the Royal Highland Show livestock competitions would still go ahead at the Ingliston Showground – but also brought the news that there wouldn’t be a live audience on site, as the event will be closed to the public.

In light of continuing official caution over the progress of the Covid-19 pandemic, the directors of the RHASS agreed that they had no option but to shelve plans for a traditional 2021 Royal Highland Show and instead consider options for what will be possible in the current climate of social distancing.

Dialling in to the society’s scheduled March board meeting, directors heard that this concept would give exhibitors a ‘Royal Highland Showcase’ for their livestock, while RHASS members would be given VIP access to the livestreaming for free.

Along with livestock and equestrian, it was proposed that other key elements of the show will be included in this grand online package, including young handlers, technical innovation, cookery and handcrafts, together with farriery, forestry and sheep shearing.

Scottish farmers and crofters were in ‘pole position’ to deliver a green recovery following the Covid-19 pandemic, but targeted investment by the next Scottish Government was needed to help the industry step up to the task.

This message was delivered by NFU Scotland’s newly elected president Martin Kennedy at the launch of the union’s manifesto in the lead up to the Holyrood elections in May.

Looking ahead to the next Scottish Government and Parliament, the union leadership outlined four priorities that Scottish agriculture needed to see addressed over the following five years, which they believe can be achieved if farmers and crofters are given the right tools and support from politicians:

  • Enable Scottish farmers to help deliver a green recovery by ensuring sustainable food production in tandem with addressing climate change and biodiversity crises;
  • Improve opportunities in the sector for current and future generations;
  • Ensure a more transparent food supply chain which supports Scottish producers and recognises the public benefits that they provide;
  • Build a resilient and enterprising rural economy that offers opportunities for all.

Fears were raised that out-of-control dogs could cause devastation in the countryside when lockdown restrictions on meeting outdoors started to ease.

A warning was issued to dog owners to keep dogs on a leash around livestock with increased footfall expected on farms and crofts.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that from March 12, four Scots from two households can meet outdoors for recreation and social purposes – in addition to exercise.

Concerns were raised that individuals are likely to flock to rural areas to meet up with friends right bang in the middle of lambing, with potentially loose dogs causing harm to new-born lambs and pregnant ewes.

A free-range egg brand came under fire after an animal welfare organisation released footage of what they deem to be cramped, injured and even dead chickens found at multiple farms.

The Happy Egg Co – synonymous with green, tree-filled pastures and healthy chickens – had been heavily criticised by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. However, the egg company said that PETA’s allegations were untrue.

PETA said it had investigated three Happy Egg Co farms and found countless birds ‘crammed into industrial sheds, with many having missing feathers, open wounds and deformed beaks’.

The video released by PETA also appeared to include clips of dead birds being left on the floor of the sheds, with other chickens pecking at them.

March saw industry bodies increasingly annoyed that supermarkets were not supporting home-grown pork. Industry intelligence figures showed a big difference between major supermarkets’ patchy performance stocking Scottish and British pork, and their much-improved commitment to locally-produced beef and lamb, causing huge frustration for the domestic pig sector.

While retailers such as the Co-op, Morrison’s, Aldi and Lidl are 100% committed to Scottish or British pork, and have a strong presence of home-produced products, others, particularly Tesco and Asda, continue to fall well short of what farmers and consumers would expect.

Scottish pork production had faced disruption due to Covid-19 and exports have been made more challenging due to Brexit. Prices have fallen below the cost of production, exacerbated by cheaper supplies being sourced from Europe.

Serious action was called for to counter the impact that reintroduced sea eagles were having on livestock farming along Scotland’s west coast.

But criticism of the species has become a stark dividing line between the people actually living with them, and those that like the idea of rewilding, viewed from a safe distance.

Lewis farmer Ann Marie Macleod suffered abuse on her social media after stepping forward to highlight the problems that the predatory birds are causing her family’s business.

Last year, Ms Macleod and her husband Iain Norman had a number of lambs and sheep disappear, and even witnessed an eagle swoop down and take a perfectly healthy lamb away. Then over the winter they lost six in-lamb ewes driven over a cliff by the swooping birds. But the final straw came when a five-day-old calf was attacked, blinded and killed – prompting Ms Macleod to write an angry open letter to NatureScot (formerly Scottish Natural Heritage) demanding more action than just a place on its management plan.

“It is not just the financial side of things,” insisted Ms Macleod. “These are our animals, and we care about them, and we don’t want them scared or hurt or ripped to bits.

“After I posted my letter online, I had people telling me that sheep were stupid, and would walk off a cliff without being chased – and that being mauled to death by a sea eagle wasn’t any worse than being sent to the abattoir.

“People are just ill-informed. They can see the attraction of having a big predator species in our skies, but they cannot see the loss, or the stress, that brings to rural communities. Now NatureScot are going to send somebody to see us, but I’m not convinced. If its just the lend of a bird-scarer, I don’t think its going to be very effective.”

Ms Macleod and her husband, who farm near Callanish, had never had a problem with sea eagle predation before last year, and suspect that it has been the recent loss of the local rabbit population to myxomatosis that has caused the birds to seek out an alternative source of food.

It was announced that red meat levies were to be returned to their home nations, finally addressing the longstanding imbalance in the levy distribution system.

Quality Meat Scotland would now have control of a total funding pot of £5.2 million to promote and protect the Scottish red meat industry. This is an increase of 25%, with £1.2 million – previously collected by English abattoirs on livestock raised in Scotland – now being repatriated to Scotland from April, 1, 2021.

Speaking exclusively with The SF, QMS chief executive, Alan Clarke was keen to point out that over the last year, QMS had benefited from a ringfenced fund of £3.5million shared between England, Wales, and Scotland.

Levy repatriation will ultimately mean there is a similar total pot of money – but now QMS will have unique say over how it is spent.

“We now get to control where this money is spent as before, AHDB controlled the purse strings,” said Mr Clarke. “There is now a fairness in the system which there wasn’t before, and we will ensure we spend the money to get the best return for Scottish levy payers.”

But he stressed that QMS will continue collaborative work with AHDB and HCC where it ‘really adds value’ to its levy payers.

“Our strategy is to ensure our brands have consumer visibility all year round,” Mr Clarke continued. “In the past we have run three national campaigns for pork, lamb and beef but the strategy has now done a 360-degree turn.

“Our target market is now younger people between 18 and 29 years old, and we want them to see our brands as a collective sweep – building one overall brand!”

Potato growers voted to end the statutory levy that funds the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board’s work on behalf of their sector.

That decision followed in the footsteps of the earlier horticulture ballot, which also decisively rejected continuation of that sector’s levy. Both these results went to DEFRA ministers, who had then to decide how to proceed now that levy-payers had had their say.

The overall voter turnout for the potato sector ballot was 64%, with 1196 eligible votes cast. The ‘no’ vote against the continuation of the levy was 66.4% versus the ‘yes’ vote of 33.6% for retention.

Voting analysis according to value of levy paid showed a similar picture of 63.2% ‘no’ votes versus ‘yes’ votes of 36.8%.

Splitting the result into the two separate potato levies – the potato buyer levy and the potato grower levy – overall buyers voted 82.1% ‘no’ and 17.95 ‘yes’, while the growers voted 64.35% ‘no’ and 35.7% ‘yes’.

Reacting to the potato result, AHDB chair Nicholas Saphir said: “I’m deeply disappointed. The voting information reported by UK Engage shows that a clear majority of the potato industry feels they are not getting enough value from the current levy set-up.

“It is now down to Ministers to weigh up all the various factors about GB potato industry and make a decision on the future role of a statutory potato levy.”

But AHDB made it clear that it doesn’t consider the loss of these votes as a done deal, saying instead that the statute under which the ballots were held made it clear they were to inform Ministers how the industry feels – but they are not bound by the results.

Read more: A look back at Scottish farming's 2021 (part two)