UK farmers can’t be expected to absorb the costs of increased animal welfare and environmental regulations whilst being made to go toe-to-toe with the world’s biggest agricultural exporters in a post-Brexit trading arena.

This was one of the messages that came out of a webinar organised by the Rural Policy Group, during a discussion on whether Brexit has made the future of farming more sustainable.

Speakers claimed that farmers had been the sacrificial lambs of Brexit and were now being expected to compete on an unfair playing field with major agricultural exporters like Australia and New Zealand, but without the support from UK Government to help them rise to the challenge.

The director of trade and business strategy at NFU, Nick Von Westenholz, said: “What we have is a trade agenda which demands UK agriculture to get more competitive, more productive and to go toe-to-toe in the marketplace with some of the most efficient agricultural producers in the world.

“It is going to be almost impossible to rise to the challenge if our domestic policy actually looks to impose ever more regulations on farming, making it more difficult to produce food at cost,” he explained, highlighting some animal welfare regulations and the changing direction of policy towards public money for public good and the phasing out of subsidies.

“Clearly there is a positive aspect to having robust animal welfare and environmental controls but, if we are to do that, it needs to be consistent with our trade policy,” he added.

“At the moment it is not and all we are doing is throwing open our doors to cheaper produced goods, essentially asking us to compete on an uneven playing field.”

He criticised the reasoning behind claims from the UK Government that these trade deals would make food even cheaper, pointing out that UK food prices are already very low.

Warning came that the shortage of qualified workers ‘isn’t just about Christmas’ - NFU Scotland called on the UK government to ‘go further’ by introducing a 12-month Covid recovery visa for the food and drink supply chain to deal with the immediate problem, and thereafter allow employers to expand recruitment to EU and other overseas workers.

The union also wanted an urgent review by the Migration Advisory Committee of the Shortage Occupation Lists so that it accommodates the acute permanent labour needs of agricultural sectors like dairy, pigs and poultry, as well as wider recruitment gaps in food and drink processing and packaging.

A survey of NFUS soft fruit and vegetable growers estimated that there was a 20% shortfall in seasonal workers and the union is looking for the Seasonal Workers Pilot scheme to be replaced with an improved and expanded permanent scheme that works for both farm businesses and seasonal migrant workers.

These labour issues were top of the agenda when NFUS vice president Andrew Connon and regional chair Colin Ferguson met with Secretary of State for Scotland Alister Jack in his Dumfries and Galloway constituency.

NFUS chief executive Scott Walker commented: “The Government now recognises there is an issue that must be addressed. While the focus around labour shortages has been on Christmas goods and fuel, the impact of the labour crisis, affecting both permanent and seasonal staff, is being widely felt among our membership and that needs a meaningful, long-term approach.

“This isn’t just about Christmas, and it isn’t just about making sure there are enough turkeys or fuel to go round. There’s an awful lot more that needs to be done by the UK Government to really solve the labour crisis that we are facing.

“The whole Scottish food and drink supply chain has been highlighting the crisis and the solutions needed for many weeks now,” said Mr Walker. “Short term visas around haulage and poultry processing may provide short term relief to supply issues but long-term solutions are what is needed.

“At farm level, farmers are making business decisions now,” he stressed. “If permanent and seasonal staff are not going to be available then they will need to scale back production and restructure accordingly. That will have knock on effects for consumer choice and would be a step backwards for a Scottish food and drink industry committed to growing in value to £30 billion by 2030.”

Farmers were looking at nitrogen costs that are triple what they were a year ago, as a world gas shortage persists and fertiliser manufacture slumps.

It was being reported from multiple sources that the quoted price for a tonne of fertiliser had crept up to and well beyond £500, while supply remained severely restricted.

Speaking from the Agricultural Industries Confederation, Joe Gilbertson, its sector head for fertiliser, stressed that ‘everything in the bag’ of nitrogen fertiliser came from natural gas, whether that was the hydrogen that bonded with atmospheric nitrogen to make the ammonia, or the energy that was used to power the process.

“This time last year the gas price was $5 a unit, and now it is $25 a unit,” said Mr Gilbertson. “Essentially, what manufacturers pay for gas has a direct relation to what farmers pay for fertiliser.

“In a worldwide market, with some very aggressive users of fertiliser, the UK represents just 1% of the market.”

Mr Gilbertson noted that China had stopped exporting fertiliser at the moment, while large users, like India and Brazil, were using their ‘deep pockets’ to secure supply.

His advice to farmers was to “talk to suppliers, talk to them early, understand what you want to do, and talk to your agronomist.”

It was looking like 2021 would be remembered as a good year for Scottish arable farming.

The latest 2021 figures released by the Scottish Government predicted that total cereal production will be around 3.1 million tonnes, with the total area of cereals grown very like the 2020 estimates, and winter planted crop areas recovering following the poor weather in the previous year. Early estimates predict yields generally above the five year average.

The figures, published by Scotland’s Chief Statistician, included first estimates from the June Agricultural Census. They show that potato areas remained steady at 28,400 hectares over the past year, while vegetable areas increased by 5% to 22,100 hectares. Strawberries were once again the most popular soft fruit, making up more than half the total soft fruit area, which remained steady in 2021 at 2200 hectares.

Livestock estimates also brought good news, showing that the on-going falling trend in cattle numbers has halted, remaining steady with last year’s total cattle at 1,720,000, with a half per cent increase from last year, albeit that is still close to a 60-year low. Within that, dairy numbers, which have been mostly stable over the last 10 years, increased very slightly in 2021, while beef cattle, T

Time was of the essence in agreeing on solutions to tackle climate change at the upcoming COP26 event in Glasgow and farming must be recognised for the role it will play in tackling global emissions and restoring biodiversity.

Scotland’s agricultural organisations spoke out on behalf of the sector ahead of the event by calling for balanced discussions around livestock emissions, appropriate tree planting and standardised tools for measuring environmental impacts, amongst their list of wants.

But the Sustainable Food Trust highlighted concerns that farming won’t be high on the agenda: “We believe farming is in danger of being ‘missing in action’ at COP 26. Yet it is in the unique position of having the potential to be one of the biggest nature-based solutions to climate change,” said its head of policy, Megan Perry.

The Scottish Crofting Federation argued that crofters have already given the sector a head start with years of environmental management, such as tree planting and peatland restoration. It called for recognition that these measures can be integrated with food production.

“Time is running out,” warned Scottish Land and Estates chief executive Sarah-Jane Laing, calling for real action and not just words in the talks ahead. She argued that the agricultural industry needs tools rather than targets, calling for standardised metrics to measure the environmental impact of the sector’s activities.

The Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers called for fact-based, balanced discussions around livestock’s contributions to global emissions and recognition of the role of red meat in a balanced diet.

SAYFC members called for recognition that farming can be ‘part of the solution, not just the pollution’, and said that tree planting targets should not threaten the future of new entrants struggling to access land.

Soil health was high on the wishlist for the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association, which called for a ‘Soil Carbon Code’ for Scottish agriculture.

STFA also warned against offshoring the UK’s carbon footprint by importing food which can be produced locally and called for distinction in the climate narrative between grass-based beef production in Scotland and feedlot beef produced in other parts of the world.

All was not well at the Crofting Commission in October, where a new report from Scotland’s Auditor General has highlighted ‘significant weaknesses’ in both leadership and governance.

In what can best be described as a forensic dissection of how the Crofting Commission has worked – or not worked – since its last big shake-up in 2016/17, the report identified a fresh ‘breakdown in trust’ between the CC board and its senior management.

But while many of the CC’s key targets have been missed over this period, the Auditor allowed that those shortfalls had more to do with the restrictions imposed by the Covid pandemic, than operation failings.

Issues concerning the Commission’s governance arose in 2016, prompting ScotGov to appoint consultants to carry out an external review of its set up. That review found that ‘strong personalities, differences of opinion and apparent incongruent individual objectives and priorities’ were having negative impacts on how the Commission’s board functioned.

As a result, an almost entirely new board was put in place in the first three months of 2017, including six new elected commissioners. The board membership stayed constant since that shake-up – but cracks began to show last year when the board convener sent a letter to the former Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism warning that the board had no confidence in the abilities of the Chief Executive, Bill Barron, citing a ‘lack of leadership, indecisiveness, procrastination’ a lack of communication; and poor personnel management’.

However, the criticism cuts both ways, with the Auditor’s report identifying a long-running issue around the board’s and former convener’s ‘excessive involvement’ with operational decision-making, which was normally the responsibility of the Senior Management Team.

Chair of the Scottish Crofting Federation, Donald MacKinnon, said: “It is very sad to read the report from the Auditor General on the Crofting Commission. The commission is the key-stone to the much valued regulated system of land tenure that is crofting, and we hoped that this sort of internal wrangling was a thing of the past.

“We appreciate that the set-up of a board of commissioners, some of which are elected, some appointed, an executive team and a body of government officials isn’t ideal for smooth functioning and really needs to be reviewed,” said Mr MacKinnon. “Everyone involved must feel frustrated.

“The shame is that this translates into a lack of achievement of outcomes, particularly that which we have raised on many occasions about occupation and use of crofts. The lack of regulation is threatening the future of this system.”

October also saw record breaking stock prices.

Their dispersal at the Bull Sales, saw and Graeme Massie say goodbye to their Blelack Aberdeen-Angus herd which grossed in excess of £1.135m and saw a record price of 62,000gns paid for the cow and heifer calf.

Blelack Princess Carina, a five-month-old heifer calf first sold for 30,000gns with her dam, also Blelack Princess Carina, selling for 32,000gns. Both were purchased by Mike and Melanie Alford, Devon.

Breed records were also well and truly smashed at the Bluefaced Leicester sale at Hawes, when a ram lamb from the Porter family's Riddings flock from Richmond, North Yorkshire, sold for a whopping £65,000 to four Scottish farming families.

The P1 Riddings ram from James and Margaret Porter, son Geoffrey and his wife Valerie and their daughter and son Marian and Will, is by the £14,000 N2 Skeughdale and out of a home-bred ewe. He sold to Malcolm Thornborrow and sons Gary and Craig, of the Dawyck flock from Stobo, Peebles; Mrs Obie Sharp, buying for the Newbigging Walls flock from Lauder; and Peebleshire breeders, Colin and Jacqui Campbell, Easter Happrew, and Ian and Agnes Campbell, Glenrath.

The new record which supersedes the previous best of £37,000 paid for a Midlock lamb in 2017, came late in the day and following another record from Allan and Ben Wight, Midlock, Crawford, when they sold their best at £40,000.

Add to that another 14 five-figure prices and the ram lamb sale also produced a record breaking average of £2338 – up a massive £132 per head on the year and for 453 sold.


FROM 2025 onwards, Scottish agricultural support payments will be determined by each farm’s climate and biodiversity credentials.

That was the news that kicked off November 2021.

To prepare for that huge agri-policy change, Scotland’s farmers and crofters are to take part in trials of new ‘green’ schemes, beginning next spring, with up to £51m of investment over the next three years.

ScotGov has promised that this National Test Programme will ‘support and encourage’ farmers and crofters to learn about agricultural impacts on climate and nature. It will also offer financial support to carry out carbon audits and nutrient management plans, to establish a clear baseline and options for action for all who participate.

Through work with a focus group of farmers and crofters, it will also help set out how sustainable farming should be supported and rewarded in future, to ensure the right system is in place as agricultural support payments become increasingly tied to climate and biodiversity.

The creation of this National Test Programme was made a priority with the establishment earlier this year of the Agriculture Reform Implementation Oversight Board to take forward the recommendations of the Farmer-Led Groups.

Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon outlined the programme at the NFU Scotland’s autumn conference, where she also confirmed that ScotGov does not support policies that promote reducing livestock numbers and that support payment rates will be maintained throughout the transition.

“The key to change, to succeeding in doing so, is by working together, listening and learning along the way,” Ms Gougeon told assembled farmers. “You have played such a key role in our past and you are vital to our future. We will not successfully address the twin crises of climate change and nature without you.

“There will be challenges on the way, there are risks, and there will be tough decisions to be made by us all, but there are also huge opportunities if we want to make them and take them.

“We can be global leaders in sustainable agriculture – we can set the global benchmark for what regenerative agriculture actually means,” she declared.

Livestock farmers had a new ally in their efforts to reduce greenhouse gases released by their beasts – a methane-busting feed additive that is to be manufactured right on their doorsteps in Dalry, North Ayrshire.

With the support of Scottish Enterprise, sustainable nutrition company, Royal DSM, is to invest more than £100m to create the first global manufacturing site for the supplement caled Bovaer. Just a quarter teaspoon of this per cow per day is claimed to consistently reduce enteric methane emission by approximately 30% for dairy cows and up to 90% for beef cows.

Royal DSM had been working on Bovaer for 10 years and in extensive trials, no negative impact on animal welfare, feed consumption or performance has ever been identified. After blocking the enzymes responsible for methane production in the stomach, the additive is broken down into natural compounds and eliminated by the cow’s normal digestive processes.

The company has an existing Dalry production facility for micro-nutrients, which currently employs more than 300 people. Preparatory work on the new plant on that site is underway, aimed at being fully operational by 2025.

The plan was announced following a meeting between the Royal DSM staff and Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon at the COP26 global climate change summit.

Ms Sturgeon said: “Methane reducing feed additives are a crucial part of the solutions that the agriculture sector needs to deploy towards achieving climate ambitions. This multi-million pound investment will make Scotland the home of this innovative product and highlights that Scotland is leading the way in delivering a net zero future.”

Scientists agree that reducing methane emissions is an important lever to reach the Paris Agreement target of maximum 1.5°C warming, especially since methane’s warming effect is shorter lived and much more potent than carbon dioxide.

It was also announced that nearly £1m is to be invested in new agricultural teaching facilities at Scotland’s Rural College's Craibstone Campus, in Aberdeenshire.

More than £900,000 will be used to create a new engineering workshop and demonstration areas for farm machinery, while a new livestock shed, and animal handling equipment will also be put in place. In addition, the site will see a new car park, new storage areas for farming and demonstration equipment as well as improved road access.

The investment in SRUC’s Tulloch Farm – part of its Craibstone campus – comes after £50,000 was spent earlier this year to create new student welfare and small group teaching facilities. The work will be completed in phases, with the project set to be finished by the end of 2022.

On the organic-certified farm, students are helping to manage 400 sheep, 100 finishing cattle of mixed breeding, and cereals. Students use the farm to gain qualifications from National Certificates through to MSc degree-level qualifications. The facilities will also be used to support continued professional development.

Principal and chief executive of SRUC, Professor Wayne Powell, said: “Helping to prepare agricultural students with the skills and knowledge to move with the times and take advantage of new opportunities has been and always will be an important part of what we do at SRUC.

"This is not just an investment in buildings, but an investment in the food producers of tomorrow who will be at the vanguard of addressing climate change and biodiversity loss through adoption and deployment of new innovative technologies and land use practices.”

Defra was been accused of failing to listen to demands from the pig sector in its hour of need.

During a heated evidence session of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Defra secretary George Eustice told members that it wasn’t until September, that pig processors raised concerns over labour shortages and that their top concern had always been on regaining access to the Chinese market.

Members of the committee pointed out that organisations like the National Pig Association had been in crisis talks with Defra over labour concerns since February.

Efra chair, Neil Parish MP, accused Mr Eustice and the government of not acting early enough: “The fact we are having to slaughter pigs, cull them on farm, blatantly shows the government did not act in time.”

Mr Eustice disagreed and argued that they acted quickly once they were aware of the scale of the challenge and said that the situation was now under control. “We will clear the backlog by the end of February or March. The gestation period for pigs and the fact that farmers are culling sows, reducing their output to bring supply and production into balance, means by next summer, we anticipate things will be stable.”

Mr Eustice announced that overseas butchers recruited via the temporary butcher scheme would start arriving from December 1, and hoped it will give pig farmers confidence to keep pigs on farm and stop any further culls – which have so far reached 14,000.

Changes to the way that slurry and digestate is stored and spread on farms could have major ramifications for farmers and crofters, were announced.

New regulations will come into force on January 1, 2022, with some phased in over five years. The Scottish Government has announced amendments to the Water Environment (Controlled Activities) (Scotland) Regulations 2011 following its 12-week consultation earlier this year.

These include improving controls on the storage of slurry and digestate to reduce leakage, and more targeted spreading to maximise the nutrient benefit and reduce emissions.

Key elements of the regulatory changes include the phasing out of broadcast spreading of slurries by splash plates and the introduction of low-emission, precision spreading equipment.

Slurry stores built prior to 1991, providing they are fit for purpose can be retained. However, all farms must have adequate slurry storage – 22 weeks for those keeping cattle and 26 weeks for pigs.

If storage improvements are needed, the changes will be phased in with some farms having five years to comply. If a pre-1991 store is to be ‘reconstructed or enlarged’ to meet storage requirements then it will no longer be exempt and will then have to comply with the British Standards.

NFU Scotland’s environmental resources policy manager, Sarah Cowie, said: “In the months since the consultation closed, we have been involved in constructive conversations with civil servants and SEPA with the aim of addressing these.

“The proposals have been revised to make it easier for farmers to comply, while the primary objectives of reducing the risk of point of source pollution, diffuse pollution and minimising emissions, which NFU Scotland supports, can still be achieved.

“When first published, the proposals drew a great deal of consternation and worry that significant capital investment for facilities and upgrades would be required to comply. A clear omission from the announcement is what funding will be available to assist the industry to make necessary changes.

“NFUS is clear that where significant capital investment is required by farm businesses, adequate, non-competitive funding should be provided to allow them to adapt and invest in upgrades and equipment in order to comply with the regulations.”