NOT EVERYONE will agree, but I am reasonably relaxed about the increased emphasis on the environment that Michael Gove is taking.

The minister might not always be right in everything he says, but I think he is at least trying to be right – and there is no doubt that he is in tune with public opinion on this one.

Fergus Ewing’s speech to the NFUS agm last week perhaps placed more emphasis on production than environment, but I don’t think the basic objectives of either minister are worlds apart.

Both want agriculture to be environmentally friendly and sustainable and that is surely an admirable objective, provided, of course, that it is coupled with increased profitability. One without the other won't work.

Scottish agriculture is a brand, which people associate with integrity, quality and green-ness. It is vital to protect that because, without this reputation, why should the public be expected to buy their food from us instead of cheaper imports from elsewhere?

With that in mind and speaking as a potato grower, I think there is room to enhance the potato sector’s green credentials. I think I have a simple solution – but first of all, here are the problems:

Growing root crops has a big environmental impact in many ways. Firstly, they use a lot of water – 130 litres per kg according to research funded by Branston. Although water is not exactly scarce in Scotland, the electricity used to pump it has an environmental cost.

Potatoes also use a lot more pesticides than any other crop, mainly because of blight and PCN. Much could be done to reduce pesticide use if we were able to use gene editing to breed blight resistant potatoes, but that is an argument for another day.

Although these pesticides are stringently regulated and safe to use, on balance we should be trying to reduce their use wherever possible. Also, more energy and fuel is used in producing and applying them, with an associated environmental cost.

The fuel bill to produce a tonne of potatoes is also much more than most other crops. Planting and harvesting potatoes uses a lot of diesel and adds to the farm carbon footprint.

So, if we are being honest, the environmental impact of growing potatoes is significant. However, our raison d'etre is to provide food for the nation and potatoes are one of the best carbs around. Cooked in the right way, they are far better for you than rice or pasta and so as long as they are needed, we should continue to supply them.

Unfortunately, potato consumption is steadily declining. I am sure that we can slow or even halt that decline with more money spent on marketing and educating the public, but there is a rather large elephant in the room here. Shockingly, half of all potatoes which the shopper takes home are subsequently lobbed into landfill and I don't see how we can possibly hope to double the nation's consumption with that happening.

This means that we potato growers are currently relying on our customers chucking out half of what we sell them in order to avoid completely flooding the market. The public and the government in their new environmental awareness are about to pull the plug on this dodgy and unsustainable business model if we don’t do it ourselves first. So, we are going to need fewer potatoes and a lot more fruit and veg in the future.

Growing potatoes has a big environmental impact and they are often overproduced, even before we factor in the household waste.

For those reasons, and for the sake of our hard earned reputation for integrity, sustainability and greenness, we should be reducing the area we grow significantly.

This reduction could be enforced by Assured Produce, which ought to take a lead here. Currently, their protocol on potatoes states that 'Wide rotations (at least one in six and preferably wider) are desirable. Close rotations can increase the risk of potato cyst nematode (PCN) and other soil-borne problems such as rhizoctonia and black dot, which reduce yield and tuber quality.'

I think they should go further and introduce a compulsory one in seven rotation for maincrop potatoes. Early crops and salads, which are in the ground for less time and have less impact, could be excused.

Although legislation like this can only be justified on environmental grounds for fear of being seen to manipulate markets, there would in fact be fringe financial benefits to farmers. Because we would no longer be overproducing and flooding the market as we currently do, it’s a fair assumption that prices would rise to a sustainable level and the increase in price would more than offset the reduction in volume.

Imports should be expected to comply with the same environmental rules as us and supermarkets compelled not to buy potatoes from abroad which did not reach our high standards, so we could not be undercut. Farmers who let out their land to potato growers would see a consequent rise in rent and their land would benefit from a more sustainable rotation.

If we apply that thinking, the we will be seen to be proactively making changes to make our industry more sustainable. Consequently, we will be protecting and enhancing our brand and our customers will not bat an eye at a small increase in price, if there is one.

Potatoes are as cheap as chips anyway, but that extra few pence will make a big difference to us, as growers and every player in the supply chain would benefit.

There is a wider argument here that involves all sectors of agriculture, not just potatoes – our industry, more than any other, is inextricably intertwined with the environment and it seems to me that while other industries can be left to market forces, farming is in a slightly different place.

It is perfectly valid to support farming financially on social, health and food security grounds, but I think public opinion is increasingly more convinced by the environmental arguments than any other. We should harness that and put it to work for us, at the same time as making the case to our political leaders that farming is only sustainable as long as it is profitable.

The two should be made to go hand-in-hand and not thought of as mutually exclusive.