UK FOOD retailers kicked off April by being slammed for sneaking imported eggs into their manufactured products.

In recent years consumers have enthusiastically embraced the British Lion standard for fresh shell eggs, and expect nothing less than the guarantees of food safety and high standards which that marque offers.

But if they believed that the supermarkets which stock fresh British Lion eggs also use the same quality of ingredients in their pre-prepared foods, they were mistaken.

Crucially, while ‘Country Of Origin’ is listed on the packaging of fresh eggs, as it is with fresh meat and milk, that information does not follow eggs used as ingredients, even on products where they are to the fore, like sandwiches, quiches and salads. Under that anonymity, British supermarkets continue to use a significant number of imported eggs, that do not meet the same safety standards, in pre-prepared foods.

There have been a number of food safety issues associated with egg products produced in Europe and further afield. In 2017, food safety authorities had to trace some 700,000 imported eggs with possible traces of Fipronil – an insecticide which shouldn’t be used around food-producing animals – that had found its way onto 180 Dutch farms.

At the time, the British Free Range Egg Producers Association described the incident as a ‘wake up call’ to the dangers of buying in processed egg as a bulk ingredient and called on retailers to change their sourcing policies.

With changes to the Wages Order effective from April 1, NFU Scotland encouraged affected members to read over the new Order and direct any questions they have to the union.

The Scottish Agricultural Wages Board decided that, from April 1, the minimum hourly rate for all agricultural workers, irrespective of age and duties, would be £8.91, an increase of 19 pence per hour (2.2%) and is equal to the UK Government’s 2021 National Living Wage hourly rate.

Workers who undertake an SCQF Level 4 or 5 or equivalent in Agriculture/Horticulture would see a minimum hourly rate of £5.58 – an increase of 12 pence per hour (2.2%) compared to the previous year.

The dog allowance went up to £6.57 per week for each dog up to a maximum of four, an increase of 14 pence (2.2%) compared to the previous year. Further changes included an increase to additional sum and accommodation offset rate for accommodation other than a house.

No change was made to the calculation for overtime. Due to the amendments to the base minimum rate, the minimum hourly overtime rate for all workers was £13.37, an increase of 29 pence compared to the previous year.

Reducing the UK livestock population to lower carbon emissions would just increase its dependence on ‘environmentally catastrophic’ meat imports.

This warning came from the National Beef Association’s Neil Shand, who pointed out that the UK’s suckler herd already did not meet UK demand for beef, with 400,000 tonnes – equivalent to 1.4m cows – imported each year.

Mr Shand conceded that there would always be a market for imported beef in the UK to meet any shortfall and suggested that the focus should be on creating a point of difference between the domestic and imported product, to ensure UK farmers are paid a premium.

“We must not export our environmental responsibilities,” said Mr Shand. “The solution lies with increasing home-grown beef production and decreasing our reliance on environmentally catastrophic imports.”

During an industry update, Mr Shand recalled how the beef industry had faired during the pandemic: “We went in to Covid-19 off the back of the worst year for profitability in the beef system. Prices were rumbling about £3.35 per kg – it had been consistently poor for a long time.”

During the first two weeks following the first lockdown, he reported that £60 was lost off the value of a beef carcase.

“In the early weeks, the price was squeezed, and we were scared about carcase balance, but when imports stopped coming into the country the carcase balance fitted perfectly,” he continued.

“As we move out of Covid-19 there will again be no concerns around carcase balance and farm gate prices will remain high,” he said, adding that as of April 1, beef producers could expect £0.80 more per kg than the same week last year. With food services due to reopen, he expected deadweight prices could reach £4.50 per kg by the end of May.

Farmers blasted children’s television series Blue Peter for encouraging kids to give up meat as part of its two-week ‘climate change challenge’.

The CBBC programme came under criticism for making ‘sweeping statements’ about meat consumption and the impact that could have on the millions of impressionable young minds who tune in.

Blue Peter asked viewers to become part of a ‘green army’ to tackle carbon emissions and climate change and its top suggestions to take part included turning off lights when you leave a room, switching from plastic bottles to reusable ones, and having meat-free meals. Children could earn a ‘Supersize Green Badge’ by taking the two-week pledge to change these things in their lives.

The programme makers involved environmentalist Matthew Shribman, who stated: “Scientists have recently worked out that eating meat is one of the biggest things causing climate change. Reducing the amount of meat you eat, especially beef and lamb, is known to be even better for the climate than reducing the amount you travel in a car.”

Welsh sheep farmer and well-known advocate of the industry, Gareth Wyn Jones, took to social media to challenge Blue Peter’s assertions with a video response which went viral: “In this country we have got grass and grass can be produced very easily on marginal lands that you can’t grow crops. This land will produce some of the top-quality proteins – beef and lamb – and it is produced in a sustainable, regenerative, and very environmentally friendly way.

“Why aren’t we telling our children this? My kids know it – why is Blue Peter and CBBC with a massive platform with millions of young minds listening not taking the opportunity to give them a balanced argument, show them the facts, give them the opportunity to make that decision?” he demanded.

“These children aren’t stupid – give them an educated choice not just one sweeping statement that doesn’t work.

“I am disappointed as a farmer and as a father. Things need to change, we need to make sure we are talking to our children about seasonal food, locally produced food, environmentally friendly food, regenerative agriculture,” he suggested. “These are the buzzwords. This is what will save our planet and meat has a part in that. This is what we have to get over.”

A perfect storm of disease, delays and raw material shortages created an unprecedented dearth of new farm tractors and ATVs in dealerships across Scotland and the UK.

An average tractor is made up of 1700 components, 75% of which are metal – so with steel prices up by nearly 80% post-Covid-19, and many factories still unable to populate their production lines with a full complement of workers, there were neither enough parts, nor enough hands, to put together new machines.

This collapse in manufacturing capacity came just as the world re-emerged from the Covid-19 pandemic, with food supplies at a premium and national governments delivering incentive packages to get economies moving again, all of which created a spike in demand for new machines.

The net effect of this suppressed supply and runaway demand was that neither love nor money would get you a new model of some leading marques much before Christmas this year.

Speaking from West Coast John Deere dealership, J and S Montgomery, Jim Hood was pleased to report that they had ‘got lucky’ this season and bought in more stock than normal on the off-chance that there was going to be just such a post-Covid-19 bounce in demand.

“What happened last spring when Covid-19 started was that sales just collapsed. No-one knew what was happening, so no-one was going out and about,” reported Mr Hood. “But people got over the fear and sales picked up – so we took a bit of a gamble and ordered a lot of stock. We got something right for a change.”

However, Mr Hood admitted that there were tractor orders being placed that month which would not be fulfilled until the end of the year: “Tractor assembly lines are busy places and a lot of manufacturers have had to stretch them out to keep workers far enough apart. That’s a limitation they’ll be living with for a while yet.”

Speaking from ATV Services Scotland, John Yuille jnr noted that modern factories worked to a ‘just in time’ model and didn’t keep a stock of components on-site, instead building new machines from components delivered straight to the start of the assembly line. In normal times, this was an efficient way to work, but shortages of raw materials compounded by labour shortages and shutdowns in component factories had caused a ‘step change’.


CIVIL SERVANTS and politicians returning to work after the Scottish Elections were to be presented with a ready-made plan for the future of the country’s farm policy, it was announced at the start of May.

Frustrated by the frosty reception given to the work of the various ‘Farmer-Led Groups’ charged with charting a low-carbon course for Scottish agriculture, NFU Scotland appointed its own crack team to bring that body of work together into ‘one coherent single farm plan’.

The idea was to create a farm policy proposal that the entirety of Scottish farming could unite behind – and if any civil servants dared repeat the suggestion that the best route to carbon-cutting would be a mass cull of livestock, the industry would be in a strong position to say a firm ‘no’, and offer their own less apocalyptic solution to the carbon challenge.

NFUS chief executive, Scott Walker, said: “When faced with a massive challenge such as climate change, working together on a solution is the best and only way forward.

“Who, in any government, would not want those tasked with all the heavy lifting to take the lead and also take any flak, for the difficult changes that will be needed?” he asked.

“ScotGov’s farmer-led groups were set up to identify a pathway to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in our industry. They have set a direction that will deliver on Climate Change mitigation, environmental enhancement and maintain farming’s fundamental role of food production.

“That is good for Scottish agriculture and all that it underpins, including jobs, incomes and the economy in Scotland. There was a clear, consistent way forward set and in the case of the suckler beef group, after being given a remit to get a scheme ready to go, it was scuppered at the last minute.

“Proposals from within ScotGov that the way to tackle climate change in agriculture is to cut cow numbers by 300,000 are not just overly simplistic but categorically wrong, a disastrous decision and wholly unacceptable to our industry,” he stressed. “Such an argument shows a lack of vision, ambition and understanding of the interdependency between agricultural sectors.”

An open letter was also sent to Scotland’s First Minister, highlighting concerns that the Scottish Green Party’s election proposals could ‘destroy a significant part of Scotland’s cultural heritage’.

Behind the letter were the 5300 members of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, who believed their livelihoods and that of their families could be under threat if the next government were to call an end to all game management and angling in Scotland – as proposed by the Greens.

The SGA claimed that not only would such a move place thousands of rural workers on the dole, impacting on their wellbeing and the future prospects of their families, but would impose ‘crippling burdens’ on the public purse.

The letter urged Nicola Sturgeon not to bargain with the livelihoods of rural workers, in order to gain the Greens support over future policies.

Problems with the weather, once again reared their ugly head. By the time Dunblane farmer Rab Paterson had gathered up 40 dead lambs in the aftermath of a bout of bitter winds, he’d stopped counting.

Late lambing outdoors in Scotland is a management choice made in the expectation that youngsters will arrive into reasonably mild weather to mothers lactating on a healthy stomach-full of new grass, but this year’s record-breaking dry and cold April hadn’t set things up that way, and as the new month began, abrupt sleety downpours dropped an inch of rain into a wind-chill recorded as low as minus 8°C at Rab’s Auchenlay Farm, near Dunblane.

With 500 sheep to lamb, starting in the last week of April, he was usually ready for anything, but this strange season brought conditions that inflicted the worse overnight damage he’d ever seen.

“We’ve had snow at this time before, but it didn’t take the same toll – the glen where we lamb is usually good for shelter – but this time we had sleet, then the wind changed direction and just tore right into them. The weather is ****,” he observed, bluntly.

SRUC sheep and grassland specialist, Poppy Frater, confirmed that late lambings around the country will have been hit, not least because ewes may have struggled to lactate well with so little grass coming forward.

“Lambs come out with some brown fat on them, but in these kind of conditions that can be used up very quickly to keep warm, then hypothermia sets in,” she said. “The fact is, if you are really pushing the farm system, which you have to do to make a profit, you’ll be relying on grass and an optimal stocking density in that field.

“You can’t stock in anticipation of a bad year – planning always has to be for an average year – so there is always the chance of getting caught out.”

A farmer in the north of England was forced to shut down his dairy farm over concerns that contaminated liquid fertiliser may be linked to the loss of his entire herd.

The farmer in question was approached by an agronomy company in 2018 to spread a new liquid fertiliser on his land, but in the weeks and months that followed, several of his cattle began to experience fertility issues, decreasing milk yields, signs of lameness, problems with their rumen function and abortions.

Prior to using this fertiliser, he reported that milk yields were strong, fertility was running at a good level of conception and cows’ feet were in good condition – with routine foot bathing carried out. The farm was also receiving bonus payments for higher quality milk and cleanliness.

However, in the last three years, chemical analysis carried out on samples of the fertiliser, soil, grass, and silage, had highlighted some concerning findings which have been shared with The Scottish Farmer.

Speaking exclusively and anonymously with The SF, the farmer hoped that his story would send a warning to other farmers to be extra vigilant about what they are spreading on their land and to ask for full clarity on any products they use.

“We were approached by this company to switch from bagged fertiliser to a liquid application which it said would help add sulphur to our grass. After the initial application, the first thing we noticed was weeds began disappearing on the farm, noticeably ragwort and other weeds. Docks, thistles, and nettles all declined over time.

“When we turned the cattle out to graze three weeks later, fertility issues started to emerge, with fewer cows coming into season. We began to notice them becoming more lethargic and experiencing issues with mobility.

“We were producing 8000 litres per cow in the years prior to using the fertiliser, but quickly afterwards we began to witness an increase in our feed intake but a reduction in milk yield – and the gap kept growing.”

He reported that milk yields decreased to 5000 litres per cow and added that the quality was all over the place.

“From the moment we used the fertiliser, mortality rates in our cows and calves increased,” he continued. “We had a low average mortality rate beforehand, but mortality rates almost doubled over night.”

A sea eagle was caught on camera, flying over Scotland’s West Coast with a lamb carcase firmly in its grip.

Conservation bodies had long claimed that the reintroduced species poses no threat to livestock, but photographs captured by Oban man, Cameron Hill, suggested otherwise.

Mr Hill, who lives on Gallanach Estate, on the outskirts of Oban, looking out to the islands of Kerrera and Mull, told The Scottish Farmer: “You often see the sea eagles in this area, especially at this time of year. You can see Mull from where we are and it is well known that that’s where a lot of them are, so we’re effectively in their flight path, so sightings are not unusual.

“This was the first time I had actually seen one carrying what appears to be a lamb, though,” he said. “I was watching it on the cliff – for about five or six minutes – and I thought it would be a good photo opportunity, so grabbed my camera and it was not until it took off in flight that I realised what was happening, and what it was carrying.

“I know a picture is just a picture, but it’s fairly clear what is in its claws. I obviously can’t comment on the condition of the lamb before the sea eagle lifted it, but it has still lifted it.”

NatureScot promised to publish an extended Action Plan for the next three years, developed by the National Sea Eagle Stakeholder Panel, aimed at achieving a ‘sustainable coexistence’ between farming and crofting interests and sea eagles where issues occur.

The nature quango believed that the main support mechanism to help farmers and crofters experiencing sea eagle predation is via the Sea Eagle Management Scheme. Following consultation with farming and crofting representatives, this scheme was revised significantly in 2020 and now offers more flexibility and an increased level of support to those affected by sea eagle predation.

NatureScot insisted that the scheme was now better placed to address the costs that some individuals have incurred as a result of adapting their management practices to mitigate impacts from sea eagles.

Last year, the scheme supported farmers and crofters through management agreements worth more than £190,000. This includes support for new measures such as enhanced shepherding.

Britain’s beef and sheep farmers contemplated ‘absolute betrayal’ by the UK Government, as Boris Johnson’s cabinet met to discuss a zero tariff trade deal with Australia.

Alarmed farmers leaders from the UK’s four nations held an emergency press conference to highlight the real possibility that Westminster, desperate to sign post-Brexit trade deals, might be set to ‘do a complete u-turn’ on its promise to protect domestic farm businesses from a flood of cheap overseas food.

While by no means a done deal, the principle of a no-barriers trade agreement with Australia, and another with New Zealand, was understood to be under serious discussion, with negotiations at an advanced stage. As such, the presidents of the four farming unions did not hold back on the apocalyptic language.

“We are fully behind trade liberalisation,” stressed ENFU president, Minette Batters, “but we have had assurances that British agriculture would not be compromised in the process.

“We are never going to be able to compete on the scale of Australian beef units or New Zealand sheep ranches. It would be an absolute betrayal by this government if it were to sign a trade deal removing all barriers to cheap food imports from these countries.

“This week is crucial!” stressed Ms Batters. “Cabinet agreement would be massively significant, and signal a complete u-turn on UK Government trade policy, the effects of which would be felt not just by the current generation of farmers, but for generations to come.”

Plans for the development of a Galloway National Park, in South-west Scotland, split the opinion of local farmers, contrary to previous claims that the scheme had widespread industry support.

Instead, some farmers insisted that there has not yet been enough information about the likely impact of a national park designation and further investigation must be carried out before it goes any further.

Dumfries and Galloway NFU Scotland regional chairman, Colin Ferguson, explained that many people want to see more evidence about the benefits of such a development, saying there were concerns about ‘additional unnecessary restrictions and bureaucracy’.

“Without such information being provided, NFUS could not be informed nor persuaded as to the merits of a national park and how it would benefit the region’s agricultural industry in terms of development aims,” he said.

“Recent press coverage and social media postings suggesting widespread farming support for a Galloway National Park has prompted me to reiterate the position and reservations held by NFUS members in relation to the current proposals,” said Mr Ferguson.

“Our members across D and G are not ‘anti-national park’, but want to see clear evidence as to how a national park would provide benefits to the wider rural economy without placing additional unnecessary restrictions and bureaucracy on day to day business activities. They want to know how farming and other economic activities would be affected or directly developed.”


UK farmers and shoppers kicked off the summer by showing increased enthusiasm for organic food production – prompting calls for this to be reflected by ‘fully embedding’ organic support into the UK’s post-Brexit farm policy, rather than the 'sideshow' it had been in the past.

Organic sector chiefs welcomed new figures showing a continued rise in the area of land undergoing conversion to organic management, driven by soaring public demand for organic food, despite the economic slump brought on by the pandemic.

Defra’s latest organic statistics for 2020 showed an 11.6% increase in certified organic land in conversion across the UK, to supply a UK organic market that is now worth £2.79bn, having grown 12.6% in 2020 – the ninth year of continuous growth

This wasn’t a UK-only phenomenon – it mirrored the performance across Europe where the number of producers and amount of organic land continued to rise in line with the EU’s ambition for 25% of all agricultural land to be organic by 2030. But EU farmers were now benefitting from a ‘robust and ambitious’ European Organic Action Plan, which the UK’s organic sector wanted the UK government to match.

Work was underway to help Scottish oat growers seize the opportunities offered by the public’s new enthusiasm for ‘milk alternatives’.

The possibilities for a Scottish oat milk brand were the focus of a Rural Innovation Support Service group which was in the process of establishing an Association of Independent Oat Milk Producers in Scotland.

Senior consultant with SAC Consulting, Alistair Trail, who facilitated the group, said: “The group started because SAC Consulting was receiving a lot of enquires from farmers and businesses interested in developing a Scottish oat milk from seeing the success of other brands.

“There are currently no large-scale manufacturers of oat milk in Scotland,” noted Mr Trail. “A small number of micro businesses in Scotland are producing perishable fresh oat milk and the logistical challenges of cold-chain delivery mean that these businesses are only supplying their individual, local markets.

“By collaborating, as part of the Association of Independent Oat Milk Producers, member businesses will be able to get involved in several areas which can help the sector grow in Scotland.”

Continuing a milk theme, dairy farmers were up in arms about the proposed construction of an incinerator at Killoch, near Ochiltree, in East Ayrshire.

Plans were underway for a new energy-from-waste facility to be built on the doorstep of one of Scotland’s biggest dairy farming regions, with a view to burning 166,000 tonnes of waste annually.

Farmers in the area told The SF they weren’t properly consulted about its construction and shared concerns that by-products from the plant could pose a threat to surrounding land, livestock, wildlife and villages, yet they feared the project would go ahead regardless.

Adam and Caroline Montgomerie, who farm at Lessnessock, along the road from the proposed site, were exploring making the move to organic milk production, but say that the new incinerator would go against organic principles entirely: “How can we guarantee that waste material isn’t going to end up in the surrounding land and rivers? Having a giant polluter erected in the middle of a big dairying region isn’t exactly the green image we are trying so hard to promote to the public.”

Years ago, the Montgomeries, along with other dairy farmers in the region, were blocked from building wind turbines yet planning permission for a ‘greenhouse gas emitting waste plant has sailed through the process’.

“We have changed our farming practices in line with government suggestions to lower our carbon footprint. Our water margins are all fenced off, we are carrying out conservation grazing and looking at ways to boost biodiversity,” they said.

“Why are farmers constantly taking the flack for our carbon emissions when big companies are allowed to progress with plans which could threaten our carbon targets and impact on local wildlife. The Scottish Government should be getting supermarkets and manufacturers to look at reducing waste by exploring plastic alternatives, not feeding fuel to the fire by building new incinerators across the country.”

A UK-Australia trade deal could bring a major boost for Scotch whisky producers with the removal of the current 5% tariff on whisky exports.

Mounting a spirited defence of the Department for International Trade’s ‘no barriers, no tariffs’ negotiating stance, UK Minister for Exports, Graham Stuart, visited Diageo’s Glenkinchie Distillery, near Edinburgh, and insisted that Scottish farmers could only gain from unrestricted trade with Australia.

Australia is currently the eighth biggest market for Scotch whisky exports, worth £113m last year, and the Scotch Whisky Association agreed that a tariff cut would help boost sales and support tens of thousands of jobs.

Quizzed about the other side of the coin – the threat of a flood of cheap red meat imports from Australia’s more intensive production systems – Mr Stuart retorted that the Australians already have a beef export quota into the UK that they choose not to use.

“Our assessment is that any increase in Australian beef coming here as a result of a new trade deal is more likely to displace the EU beef we currently import, as opposed to UK beef,” said Mr Stuart, who insisted that getting the UK a foothold in the region – and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership involving Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam – was a prize well worth chasing.

“Why are Scottish farmers worried?” asked Mr Stuart. “The meat market in the EU is expected to drop. If you want a future for your son or daughter on the farm, look to the fastest growing markets of the world!”

Tenant farmers welcomed official recognition that the power of the Land Court to award expenses against unsuccessful appellants in rural payment appeals operates as a ‘barrier to justice’.

The Scottish Tenant Farmers Association highlighted analysis of the Consultation on the Future of the Scottish Land Court and the Lands Tribunal for Scotland, which was set up to look at whether the two bodies should be amalgamated and, if so, whether the resultant body should be a court or a tribunal.

The consultation also sought views on the allocation of expenses following Land Tribunal hearings and Land Court rural payment appeals and whether or not the current long-established principle of expenses following success raised access to justice issues and should be amended.

STFA chairman, Christopher Nicholson said: “We are heartened that this consultation has agreed with STFA that the present power of the Land Court to award expenses against unsuccessful appellants in rural payment appeals operates as a barrier to justice. These hearings should be either conducted on the basis of each side paying its own expenses or capped at a reasonable level which should deter vexatious appeals but should not act as a deterrent for genuine appellants.

“However, the ‘winner takes all’ principle raises more widespread concerns in situations where there is usually an imbalance of resources between parties. It undoubtedly also acts as a significant barrier to justice for the majority of tenants seeking fair play in a dispute with their landlord, particularly where the dispute is over straight-forward questions regarding farm rent and other valuation issues, such as compensation for improvements,” said Mr Nicholson.

British farmers were wanting more than just optimistic statements from Prime Minister Boris Johnson – they needed to hear exactly how he plans to make international free trade agreements work for the domestic agricultural industry.

Farmers’ leaders this month urged the PM to reveal his strategy to manage the impact of opening the UK market to big agricultural exporters like Australia, New Zealand and the US, while also building up our own exporting muscle to sell more British produce abroad.

The UK farming unions warned that large-scale tariff liberalisation would lead to severe pressure on UK farmgate prices, causing significant harm to farm businesses. Neither should trade deals undermine the UK’s own high farming standards by rewarding lower standards overseas.

The NFU asked the UK government to conduct a rigorous economic assessment of the predicted cumulative impact of free trade agreements on UK farms, and publish its response to the Trade and Agriculture Commission’s report of March, 2021, in particular how it intends to pursue a liberalised trade policy without compromising high standards.

At the same time, it should set out a detailed export strategy that includes match-funding for export promotion and market development, and investment in trade diplomacy, while developing a comprehensive strategy to improve productivity and competitiveness at home for UK farmers.

English NFU president, Minette Batters, said: “The tariff-free access being granted to Australian farmers from the outset is incredibly significant. We have repeatedly raised our concerns about this level of tariff liberalisation on sensitive sectors, such as beef, lamb and sugar, and the subsequent impact this could have on domestic producers.

“These are enormous volumes and it’s not clear at all that the safeguards that have been announced will have any effect,” said Ms Batters. “For example, the fifth year of the tariff safeguard on lamb would only kick in if Australian producers have already shipped over 150% of the UK’s current import requirement. It’s hard to know if it is British lamb producers or the carrying capacity of our docks that are really being safeguarded here.

“As the final details of how the tariff-rate quotas are administered and how the safeguards will operate are negotiated, I expect the government to engage directly with the UK food and farming industry immediately to ensure these aspects of the deal are as effective as possible,” she said.

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