In his final address to NFU Scotland’s AGM as President, Borders farmer Nigel Miller has called on the momentum established in 2014 to continue.
Mr Miller, who steps down as President tomorrow (Tuesday, 10 Feb), told the AGM in St Andrews that 2014 was a landmark year for Scottish and UK politics, CAP Reform and the lands tenure debate.
Despite huge progress in these areas, these vital workstreams are far from completion and Mr Miller urged those elected to office to ensure these matters continue to be taken forward. In his speech to council, Mr Miller said:
“The future for our industry is bright, I remain very positive about our prospects but there remains a great deal of work to be done. Last year was a landmark year in many respects but the reality is, nothing is finished.
“For Scotland, after all the excitement and anticipation of 2014. It would be very easy for politics, post-Smith Commission, to slide into stalemate, killing the huge resurgence in political engagement and moving quickly to disillusionment.
“It is up to all politicians to make that energy in Scotland a positive for the future. Part of that is making the Smith Commission compromise work and grasping the opportunities in the Scotland Bill. All Ministers must be bold to create a more collaborative atmosphere between Holyrood and Westminster. Such an approach could see issues around budget convergence and livestock levies resolved sooner rather than later and create positive legacy.
“On land reform, we want to see farming and a collaborative tenanted sector at the centre of standards for Scotland. An apolitical Land Reform commission linked into regional aspirations is fundamental to it being a positive.
“There is considerable support within the Union to move quickly on the recent recommendations from the Agricultural Holdings Legislation Review Group but also a level of caution. Lessons learned from 2003 changes demonstrate how important getting the legislative detail right is if we are to create stability.
“Specialist working groups should be established to develop the AHLRG and to bolt down the text into robust legislation. This process is all about creating a more balanced and collaborative tenanted sector with new opportunities. That vision must be carried forward to the legislative phase. To safeguard the transition, we hope that members of the original review group might oversee the specialist workstreams.
“On timing, ideally we would want to see a standalone legislative slot for agricultural holdings legislation before the next election. If parliamentary process blocks this standalone approach and agricultural tenancy changes are to be carried in the proposed Land Reform bill, then that legislation must be ring fenced and solely focussed on creating a vibrant tenanted sector in Scotland.
“If there is a positive in the collapse in dairy and potato markets, it has been in further highlighting to politicians and the public the imbalances that persist in our supply chains. That has already brought new powers and activity from the supermarket adjudicator. We need to look at stretching these a bit further so that they reach back to the primary producer.
“In the 2006 crisis, potatoes were retailing at £1.80 per kilo, of which the producers’ share was 17p. Today, potatoes are selling in supermarkets for £1.99 per kilo, of which the producers’ share is 7p. Tatties are retailing at almost £2000 per tonne and producers are getting £70 per tonne at the farmgate. Analysis of market share and power in the supply chain have some stark examples of primary producers being pushed into unsustainable positions.
“The unrelenting squeeze on margins, the loss of plant protection products, limits on nitrogen usage etc makes it all the more important that producers have the most modern tools at their disposal. In crops, our yields have plateaued. We need to break the block on any discussion on using our scientific capability to work our way out of that plateau. At the James Hutton Institute, we have world-leading expertise in potatoes and soft fruit but it has the potential to be Europe’s centre for barley.
“But the block on crop development is undermining the scientific community. We need to get behind the headlines of GM and find a way forward. Having a science and ethics body oversee plant breeding could allow precision techniques to accelerate what could be achieved through conventional breeding alone. If that body was to be established in Scotland, then the intellectual property could stay with the research body rather than corporate hands.
“Implementing the new CAP remains a frustrating work in progress with important issues still to be resolved around matters such as activity, croft common grazings etc. We have reassurances that delivery of payments, at the moment, is still on time. There will be a crucial milestone in March when claimants to the new scheme feed in their information. We need Scottish Government to be open and signal if timetables are being dragged.
“We know across Europe, payment bodies are facing a challenge in delivering the new CAP on the ground. There is merit in looking at the Belgian approach – where there are proposals for each element of the new CAP to be put into a separate silo – Basic Payment Scheme in one silo, greening in another and so on. Belgian Unions are asking the EU to approve this approach on once all checks and inspections associated with silo have been completed, the payment can go out.
“Although this marks my last day in office, I hope that the collaborative and stakeholder approach that the Union has been instrumental in developing can be further developed in 2015 and beyond for the common good of Scottish food and farming.
“I firmly believe there would be merit in the creation of a stakeholder forum to discuss the farmed environment, to find common ground on environmental and biodiversity issues and engage with stakeholders who don’t normally have their voice heard. I would also like the Union to reach out further to all members – our organic producers, the New Generation – and also look at ways of bringing our land-owning and tenant groups closer together and move away from set divisions to a more collaborative approach.”