By NFU Scotland vice president Martin Kennedy

MANY OF the issues we faced before Coronavirus forced us into a lockdown situation are starting to climb back up the agenda.

Climate change is one of these issues and is something the whole of the agricultural industry is going to have to work to address. Tackling climate change is an issue the entire industry needs to grasp with both hands and act on, sooner rather than later.

Realistically, it’s something we should be using to our advantage. It gives us opportunities to use new technologies and ideas to help drive businesses forward, but it will also let us highlight all the positive aspects of what agriculture in Scotland is all about and show how farmers and crofters across the country are working hard to improve further on our green credentials.

While the response to Covid-19 has been the nation’s priority, the UK Government has also continued preparations for our planned departure from the EU.

The recent failure to secure backing from a majority of MPs for the amendments to the Agricultural bill going through Parliament, which would have made sure that any imports coming into our country met the same standards that we have here, leaves a massive dent in our confidence.

This isn’t finished yet, it’s still to go to the House of Lords, then back to the Parliament so all those who are elected to represent still have a chance to turn that decision and act in our best interests.

It would appear the US is only interested in driving forward a trade deal that allows them access to our markets with products like beef and chicken, but aren’t so keen to take back products like sheep meat, when the US would be a fantastic market for the UK to get into.

The same applies to arable products whereby many of the tools that American farmers have in their toolbox to either increase yield or enhance resistance to disease and drought are deemed illegal here. American access to those plant breeding techniques and plant protection products puts our farmers at a real competitive disadvantage and limits our efficiency, which is directly linked to our carbon footprint.

We are committed to our already high standards and continue to address climate change in a positive manner, and it is imperative that governments recognise our efforts two-fold.

Firstly, by supporting financially the efforts already taken and the options we need to take up in the future, which will allow us to continue to produce food at home to the standards expected of us at an affordable price.

And secondly, it is absolutely essential that we are not undermined by other countries filling our markets with products produced to inequivalent standards to those that we are proud to produce to here in Scotland and the UK.

The UK Government says it will not allow domestic standards to be undercut in any new trade arrangement, but it is not prepared to put this commitment into legislation. So, our challenge to them is this: to outline exactly what it will do to ensure that these safeguards are met, and to establish an independent Commission on Trade and Standards – a concept which had the backing of the UK Government’s own Rt Hon Michael Gove MP during his time in Defra – which would provide an essential check and balance for new trade arrangements.

To do otherwise is not only going to tip the balance the wrong way on the sustainability of our industry, but also will inevitably have a serious adverse effect on our environment and biodiversity. That is the very thing that puts Scotland on the map when it comes to our provenance and successful tourism industry, and which is already under breaking point now.

To ensure that we don't import food into the UK which is produced in ways that would be illegal here, we are urging people to sign a petition from our friends at NFU calling on the UK Government to protect our standards in future trade deals. Go to:

One thing that this Covid-19 experience has highlighted over the past ten weeks is just how important food security really is. As an industry we have done our upmost to continue to feed the country to the very best of our ability.

There is now an opportunity like never before for both UK and Scottish governments to recognise how dependent our nation is on our industry and make sure we can continue to do our job in a positive manner.

As farmers and crofters, all we ask for is a fair deal, but anything less right now will inevitably risk the sustainability of what we already have.

Let’s use this once in a lifetime opportunity. '