SIR, Agriculture seems to be at a crossroads with contradicting signals demanding considerable thought.

Labour shortages, diminishing rural populations and the Scottish Government accused of founding the second Highland Clearances.

The longstanding labour shortage, in particular regarding seasonal fruit and vegetable picking staff is blamed on the UK working population being unwilling to meet the monotonous labour-intensive seasonal demands and Brexit offering no favours to the supply of migrant seasonal labour.

However, a published report on Monday, February 19, suggested all is not well in that area when ‘slave labour’ working conditions prevail with long season-only hours, and excessive targets for less than minimum wages earned.

Diminishing rural populations is apparently a current concern of the Scottish Government while in the recent article headed – Walker: Agriculture Bill ‘worthless’, published in in another publication, Jim Walker in his on-going criticism of the Scottish Government’s Bill stated: “No wonder commentators are starting to describe this as the second Highland Clearances.”

While I have no idea who Jim was referring to and have never read or heard such a suggestion, in fact, they would all be wrong as the second Highland Clearances commenced when the Scottish National Farmers Union persuaded the powers that prevailed in Europe that due to the upland nature of much of Scotland, farms here required to be larger in scale than throughout most European farming countries therefore no-capping of support should be mandatory in farm support policy. No mention at that stage that Scotland also had many large estates with tenanted farms covering much of our Highlands.

It was thereafter no surprise that as a consequence the greenlight flashed for estates to use any available opportunity to take tenanted farms in hand, if they so wished should they be vacated, and thereafter gather any appropriate support. Larger farms and estates expanding their farming interests and diminishing rural populations are the now evident predictable consequence. In Perthshire for example the countryside is littered with lost farming opportunities with land often managed from a central hub with steadings lying derelict, or occasionally in prominent locations, converted to housing.

‘No farmers, no food’ seems to be a common cry these days while logic suggests more farmers, therefore more food is the route to riddance of slave labour, increasing rural populations and food security.

If the Scottish Government is dithering as suggested then hopefully they are at long last coming to grips with the confusing signals and utilising the wealth of young male and female farming hopefuls by strictly capping farming support to scale of enterprise, thereby increasing stability of food security, increasing rural populations and self-sufficiency of rural communities as they develop increasing working rural populations dependent on local cooperation and services.

Tom Gray, Braco