DEFRA’S NEW secretary of state paid her first official visit to Scotland to hear how a future agricultural policy post-Brexit must deliver for all sectors and land types.

NFU Scotland representatives met Theresa Villiers during a farm visit to Pitgaveny Farms in Moray, where they took the opportunity to highlight the unique profile of Scottish agriculture. They made it clear to the secretary of state that future trade deals must demand exacting standards of production and called for an immigration policy which meets the needs of the agri-food labour market.

Union vice president Charlie Adam, who attended the meeting, said: “We had a constructive discussion on the unique profile of the industry and the reasons why the devolved delivery of a fully-funded, targeted future support package is so important to the needs of the industry in Scotland.

“Pitgaveny Farms produce cereals, beef, pork and lamb and let out land for potatoes and carrots. Its mix of conventional and organic production and commitment to high quality production provided the Minister with a comprehensive overview of all that our farming can achieve if given the right tools by governments.”

The meeting was hosted by Highland regional chair Martin Birse, who manages Pitgaveny, who said: “The uncertainty around farming and crofting has never been higher and a year like this highlights the ongoing need for all sectors to be properly supported in the future.

“The malting barley we have grown on contract this year might make a small profit but for those forced to sell uncontracted malting barley on the spot market, the prices will come nowhere near production costs of around £150 to £160 per tonne and, without support, would be totally unsustainable,” he explained.

“Beef breeding heifers that we were selling for £1200 this time last year will struggle to make £1000 this year, as Brexit uncertainty continues to undermine the beef market, while leaving Europe without a deal would undoubtedly have massive implications for our sheep production in the future,” he continued.

“Farmers and crofters want to run their businesses without support, but input costs – particularly in very difficult years like this – are largely beyond our control and market prices are far from reliable.”

Chairman of the combinable crops committee, Ian Sands, said: “NFUS has always been clear that a deal must be found on the terms of the UK’s exit from the EU which ensures that trade can continue on a free and frictionless basis, and that our exacting standards that we are proud to produce to here in Scotland are not undermined by inequivalent imported produce coming cheaply into our domestic market.”

Chairman of the horticulture working group, James Porter, who produces soft fruit in Angus, added: “The evidence is clear and unequivocal. The agri-food sector throughout the country depends on a reliable workforce from outside the UK to fill seasonal and permanent posts right through the whole supply chain.

“NFUS is pushing the UK Government relentlessly to ensure its approach to immigration and the labour market recognise this plain fact. NFUS is particularly concerned that the UK Government’s proposals in the event of no deal could expose those sectors that strongly depend on seasonal staff to severe shortages – an oversight which must be corrected, and soon,” he urged.