The “all or nothing” nature of this year’s NFU Scotland elections means that only one member of the current three-strong presidential team will be returned after February’s AGM.
Current union president Allan Bowie is standing for re-election for a second two-year term – but while both vice-presidents, Rob Livesey and Andrew McCornick, will challenge him for the top post, neither have put their names forward to continue in a vice-presidential role, meaning two new faces on the top team.
With election hustings taking place round the country over the coming weeks, the three candidates for these two vice-president positions today outline some of their priorities and views for taking on the task.
Tom French farms 200 acres of upland grass/arable at Balgray, Crawfordjohn, Biggar. Married with two daughters, he has been Forth & Clyde regional chairman since 2012.
French said that the uncertainty over Brexit, the timescale of the exit process and the outcome of any trade deals were the biggest factors affecting the industry.
And while the changes also offered an opportunity to tailor agricultural policy to better fit Scotland’s requirements, he said the industry had a job to do to ensure that all politicians understood farming’s unique requirements.
However, French stressed that efforts to educate should not end with the politicians. He said: “Society as a whole needs to be aware of the benefits of productive farming and we need to gain better recognition and appreciation of all that farming and crofting provide.”
He argued that direct support under pillar 1 would remain essential, and should be focused on active producers.
He added that pillar 2 support would also be vital for measures such as the new scheme due to replace Less Favoured Area Support Scheme (LFASS) this year – but he said that agri-environment and rural development schemes should be focused on industry beneficial outcomes and not concentrated on a few individual businesses.
Martin Kennedy of Lurgan Farm, Aberfeldy, is married with three daughters and farms 600 breeding ewes, 30 Continental cows and 30 Highlanders with his wife Jane. He is currently serving his second year as chairman of the Less Favoured Areas committee.
Kennedy said that with Brexit representing the biggest challenge to the industry, a key outcome for the union’s top brass would be to ensure that the UK and Scottish governments negotiated free market access to countries both within and outside the EU.
Pointing out that UK consumers currently spent less than 10 per cent of their income on food compared with 40 per cent in the past, he said that with no government wanting to see food price inflation, a targeted support system would remain crucial.
He said he had been closely involved in the union’s attempt to avoid any damaging redistribution of funds away from active farmers when the LFASS is changed in 2018.
“This has given me the opportunity to understand the best way to make our arguments heard for all sectors of agriculture and I believe I can help further our case for all farmers and crofters in Scotland.”
Gary Mitchell of West Galdenoch Farm, Stranraer, switched from an arable and beef enterprise to dairying in September 2007 and currently milks 800 cows. He served as milk committee chairman between 2012 and 2014 and has been regional chairman for Dumfries & Galloway since 2014.
Mitchell said that while the bulk of his union experience had been in the milk sector, most of his farming life had been spent in the beef and arable side, so he had a good understanding of issues affecting these sectors.
He said he was keen to learn about the sheep sector and what could be done to preserve hill farmers from changes to LFASS.
But, while Mitchell said that he had been an open supporter of Brexit – as he felt the decision makers in Europe had a poor understanding of the diverse terrain of Scotland – he said getting the best deal was the biggest task ahead.
He said: “We need to get the best deal possible across all our sectors, with single market access being crucial.”