MILITANT veganism and scaremongering over farming's environmental impact are causing huge damage to the UK industry's reputation – and it is time for Scottish farmers to wake up and face the public head on to highlight the good work their industry is doing.

Those were the sentiments arising from the passionate debate on the future of British agriculture which took place at the Scottish Association of Young Farmers Clubs' Agri Affairs' conference in North Queensferry last weekend.

“The growing number of militant vegans is no doubt a threat to our industry,” said dairy farmer and Oxford Farming Conference director Sally Williams. “They might not necessarily be increasing the number of people turning vegan, however, they are spreading their own version of education about our agricultural sector and it makes people think.

"Why are we not ramming home our message about grass fed beef which isn’t processed and doesn’t have anything added to it? We lose meat eaters because we allow the processed element to have a bigger voice than we do," said Ms Williams.

“We have ended up in a society where people are looking to be part of a tribe, to find a sense of belonging. The vegan family gives them that special club they can identify with – just being a meat eater is the norm, it doesn’t come with a title or a talking point. It is our duty as an industry to understands the needs of our consumers and the reason behind their choices if we are to overcome the challenges it brings,” she urged.

The SAYFC debate moved on to the value of food and how it has stunted progress in the industry. Fellow panellist and new entrant farmer Zander Hughes explained: “The biggest problem with this industry is the way food is valued. Problems around single farm payments, the price of farm land and machinery would all disappear if food had its true value. Food has been left behind as other industries have grown and we now spend less of our income on food than we have done since the industrial revolution.”

It was highlighted that Scotland is the second lowest country in the world for food prices and final panellist and Scottish Liberal Democrats leader Willie Rennie said that public attitudes towards pricing needed to change: “There is a constant battle between price and authenticity when it comes to purchasing food. Knowing where your food comes from is increasingly a desire from certain groups in society, apart from when they can’t afford it and then it goes back to being primarily about price. That battle will continue for a long time and the more we can spread our messages and move consumer thinking to favour authenticity over price, then the better it will be for long term sustainability of the sector.

President of the Young Farmers Clubs of Ulster, James Speers, asked the panel if the time has come for farmers and environmentalists to start working together?

“Unfortunately, we have ended up in two separate camps,” replied Ms Williams. “Agriculture needs to up its game and take our head out of the sand. We need to educate the critics about what we do and put an end to the ‘us and them’ mentality which has held our industry back from building strong relationships with the public.”

Mr Hughes added: “The two are very much interlinked. There are some exceptionally good farmers who are environmentally conscious. Unfortunately, bad news spreads like wildfire and you get one bad egg in a box and suddenly we are all tarred with the same brush. Those are the ones we need to weed out,” he concluded.