Our new Farm View writer, Norman Bagley, is the founder and head of policy at the well-respected trade body, the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers (AIMS). In his first column, he makes the case for even better marketing for Scotland’s agricultural output

Before AIMS came along, I was a livestock auctioneer for 35 years, first in the Welsh Borders and then from 1985 at a farmer-owned auction at Ripon before it was closed permanently after foot-and-mouth.

What a whale of a time I had there, great people. In moving into representing the meat industry, I suppose it could be construed as a natural progression into the world of the dark arts but I have to say it’s been an absolute blast and I’ve enjoyed every minute.

In life you don’t often get the chance of two careers and love both.

AIMS was formed 20 years ago this month after I had sat on the Maclean task force on meat inspection charges for abattoirs, which by chance also identified the previously underestimated importance of the medium and small independent abattoir sector.

I was asked to set up a representative organisation which by complete chance was done on February 21, 2001. Familiar? Yes, the night before foot-and-mouth was confirmed. What a baptism of fire that was – definitely no time for fannying around.

Its objectives were simple. Build on the positive fact that more than 40% of livestock went through this unheralded sector and address the tsunami of regulations bearing down on them for little or no benefit for public health, animal health or welfare. That battle is still raging.

Our almost 300 members are in both red meat and poultry and are drawn from the abattoir sector, along with cutting plants and catering butchers from across the UK. They range from PLCs to SMEs and they all know our team of vets, lawyers and advisers are on hand 24/7 to assist when required.

Then there’s me to administer some targeted external backside kicking where and when needed but only gently, of course!

Members receive daily updates covering all issues which affect their businesses, weekly market reports covering deadweight, wholesale and retail prices.

Enough about AIMS, so a few thoughts on how I see the Scottish scene from North Yorkshire.

Agriculture became a devolved power for Scotland in 1999 and whilst the current Scottish Government set its own rural policy, I’m not sure that this is currently true 'devolution'.

My reasoning is:

A), Cash into Scottish farming comes in the form of budget from Westminster and there are, rightly, reported concerns that at present there is a shortfall for Scotland of £170m for the period 2020 to 2025.

B), I am acutely aware that for most Scots and certainly the Scottish Government, Brexit appeared to be ‘forced’ on your country against its will. Time will tell whether or not the agreement with the EU will be good for agriculture and trade.

C), The Grocery Code Adjudicator who is there to ensure that the UK’s multiple retailers treat their suppliers lawfully and fairly sits within a ministry in Westminster and is, I believe, toothless. Scotland’s needs its own voice.

I listened with interest to Fergus Ewing’s address to this year’s Oxford Farming Conference when he correctly said that Scotland’s farmers are producers of high-quality food, custodians of the countryside and the backbone for rural communities. I agree with him but suggest that he perhaps missed an opportunity to make a more substantive point, namely that Scotland farmers produce high-quality, low emission foods.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is spot on when she recently said: “New Zealand is pretty good at hydro, geothermal and wind generation, as well as producing low emissions food. Other countries are better at making electric cars and mass rapid transit systems. Let’s trade.

"For too long, our trade deals have run counter to the environmental outcomes we want to achieve. Let’s start by putting climate change at the heart of our trade relationships.”

New Zealand and Scotland have much in common!

Scotland’s net zero by 2045 targets will be achieved through many initiatives including the selective planting of woodlands and the restoration of peat land.

This will enhance carbon sequestration and must now be set alongside Scotland’s livestock farmers output to create a marketing narrative that positions your high-quality Scotch Beef and Scotch Lamb as low-emission food. Vitally important as we face the future.

This can be achieved by the collective strength of you all to ensure that you hold QMS accountable for your industry. It is your levy they spend and you can, and must have a say in how it is spent.

The Brexit outcome means that Scotch Beef and Scotch Lamb will no longer be able to be sold as PGI but, between now and January 1, 2024 will have to change the logo to GI (Geographic Indication), UK Protected.

Brexit led the Westminster Government to set out across the world striking new trade agreements for countries outside of the EU. You must ensure that QMS drives the features and benefits of GI Scotch Beef and GI Scotch Lamb in every trade negotiation aligning your product to your country’s environmental initiatives.

Too often we see those in the anti-meat and, I suggest, the anti-farming lobby, spouting their views that agriculture is the largest contributor to climate change. Not only is this currently untrue but within Scotland’s farming community, this is an insult to your personal integrity.

However, I temper this with a word of caution, as other industries move with speed to cut their emissions more quickly than agriculture is able to do, then regrettably, the percentage emissions associated with farming may well increase.

Therefore, Scotland’s farming community, despite Brexit and with the strength of your own rural policy and the backing of your Government, must market and market hard that you, like New Zealand, are a low emission food producing country.

Use that as a major benefit to not just make the case to Westminster for a fairer share of the agricultural budget, but to also immediately remove the present shortfall.

Ensure that the team at QMS understand fully and market well low emission GI Scotch Beef and Scotch Lamb domestically and in export markets.

Differentiate your product from the rest of the UK with the supermarket’s buyers and show them that high-quality is climate friendly when it comes to Scotch Beef and Scotch Lamb and that through their stocking on shelf, they too gain the environmental outcomes that their own net zero ambitions require.

As we all know politicians and ministers come and go. Policies change, but where is the free-thinking from either ministers, or their civil servant support staff?

Don’t give them problems, much better present solutions that they can assume as their own for career advancement. As Scottish farmers you have the opportunity to ensure that you and, in the meat sector, QMS, grabs your good news production standards for low-emission food ... and shout it loud and proud to Westminster and beyond.

One last thought. If you think your government could be more supportive of Scottish agriculture, try farming in England where the anti-production blob is in full flow.