Sir, – Much has been said recently about a proposed trade deal with Australia in particular and other likely trading partners in the future, it has been discussed on the national news and not least in The Scottish Farmer.

I have to say I very much share the concerns expressed but find myself surprised that enlightened members of the UK Farming Roundtable and indeed Boris Johnson’s Cabinet seem unable to see, or understand there is a bigger picture that needs closer scrutiny.

As I might have mentioned before in the column inches that have been afforded to me in The Scottish Farmer in recent years, it became clear to me in the run-up to the referendum in 2016 when both Michael Gove and Boris Johnson cited freedom from the CAP as being reason to vote for Brexit, that farming, and in particular the way in which it has been supported, was going to go through drastic change and I did wonder if they believed Britain should follow the route New Zealand took in 1984.

In reality, there will still be money available to land managers, however, routes to that dwindling supply of money are less about producing food and more about enhancing the environment and tackling climate change, farmers are going to have to change the way we do things if we want access to this money.

During the recent pandemic it had been highlighted that larger sections of our community had come to rely on the use of food banks to survive, however this belies the truth that Brits have access to the cheapest food in Europe and rank third in the world in terms of a percentage of our income.

Whoever you vote into power you do so primarily because you believe that person will improve your lifestyle and for many, access to cheap food comes top of the list enabling you to spend the remaining 92% of your income on the material things people desire.

It is for this reason that I have no doubt that trade deals will be done with Australia and other countries that will probably be in line with the principles of the Cairns Group which was inaugurated by Australia back in 1986.

As pointed out on the BBC’s Radio 4 the general public will welcome cheaper food and will see it in their best interests to laud trade deals that keep the cost of living in check.

This is where myopathy takes over and the bigger picture has yet to be seen. “Throwing farmers under the Brexit Bus,” as Ian Blackford accused Boris Johnson of in last week's Prime Minister’s Question Time, is only a small detail of the impact the trade deal talked about would have on this country’s destiny.

If farming is being sacrificed – and I have no doubt that it is – then what are the other implications? As things stand, we have a first-class production system in place that has the skills set producing highly nutritious food to standards that give the consumer the confidence to eat in safety.

With climate change and the environment getting plenty of airtime and being at the forefront of people's thinking, then with talk last week of creating trade deals with other countries there will without doubt be a reduction in the amount of home-grown food we eat. We will become reliant on other countries to grow our food for us (more on this later).

At this moment in time, there are fewer than 400,000 people working the land, or about 0.6% of our population. Therefore, reducing skill sets further introduces the risk that, should the need ever arise for us to start producing food again – as it did back from 1940 until rationing finally ended in 1954 – this time it will be from a smaller range of skills and on a reduced area of land. It will be a slow process that will be extremely hard to react to with any haste.

In the meantime, we will have lost countless jobs in other supporting industries, haulage, feed mills, abattoirs, food processing, agricultural machinery manufacturing and its maintenance, and the list goes on.

Rural communities will be further depleted with the closure of village shops and schools not to mention the increased danger of wildfires where farmers are no longer managing the land for food production. Wildfires that could well get into peat destroying thousands of years’ worth of natural carbon sequestrated on this land. We are in danger of losing a way of life and an important part of our heritage.

Going back to my point on relying on food from other countries, there comes a point when the more food we import the more we reduce our power to strike a deal that is in our best interests.

As an example, if you have something I desperately need for my survival, who is going to have the stronger hand in agreeing what I pay for what you are selling? Certainly not me, I cannot survive without what you have to sell, that instantly puts me on the back foot.

Accepting this principal, there is a roll-on effect, not just on food, but in turn everything we trade due to the fact that food has risen to the top of our purchasing agenda when trying to negotiate trade deals of any sort. I think that the example of the Cairns Group proves my point when you consider their focus is on the export of agricultural produce from the now 20 countries who are members.

In short, there is far more at stake than 'throwing farming under the Brexit Bus' should, or more likely, when this much talked about trade deal with Australia goes ahead, others will follow.

Furthermore, I am astounded that if a simple hill shepherd like me can recognise the dangers of where farming is being led by our political masters, then why, oh why have the esteemed leaders of the organisations who make up the UK Farming Roundtable not seen the bigger picture?

Surely, if these organisations were worth their subscriptions, they should be making these points to politicians on our behalf. An Australia deal would be our first post-Brexit deal and the rest of the world will be looking on with anticipation.

Yes, we need to tackle climate change and have a higher level of empathy with our environment, but it is oh, oh so wrong to export our own environmental problems to other countries and destroy the ability we have developed over millennia to feed an ever-growing population.

Hamish Waugh