While some of the industry’s anger might have been dissipated by the announcement made earlier in the week that the Scottish Government would underwrite farm payments next month, the country’s farmers still made the most of yesterday’s rally at the Scottish Parliament to hammer home the underlying problems to MSPs.
Ahead of the upcoming election, more than 250 producers from the length and breadth of the country took time away from the farm to meet their MSPs face to face at the union’s first mass rally on the steps of the Scottish Parliament.
NFUS president Allan Bowie emphasises the wider role played by farmers in the rural economy and the function played by the industry in supporting businesses and jobs “both upstream and downstream” of the farm gate.
“There is a growing realisation that farming matters and the rural economy matters – and we’re here today to press that message home,” said Bowie.
“The farming industry itself generates £3 billion for the economy – but the £14bn Scottish food and drink industry relies on us. And while 65,000 might work directly in the industry, over 350,000 jobs rely on what Scottish farmers and crofters produce.”
Bowie also said that, with the price of all farm produce currently at rock-bottom levels, the fact that farmers were unable to make a decent living from the marketplace had been laid bare – due entirely to the dysfunctional supply chain which saw margins and profits failing to filter down to farmers on the ground.
“We understand that there might be pain elsewhere – but the industry needs to get a fair margin for the work and services which it provides,” he said.
He said that the unanimous message from Scotland’s leading politicians was that they recognised the problems being faced by the industry.
“We want those words to translate into actions – and when party manifestos emerge in the next few weeks, issues relevant to farming, food and the rural economy must be front and centre,” he added.
The event was also addressed by political leaders, with Conservative leader Ruth Davidson stating that the move to underwrite payments should have been taken by the Scottish Government months ago.
Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie said that no further delays to the payments could be tolerated while the party’s agricultural spokesman, Tavish Scott, expressed doubts over the new computer system.
Labour MSP Sarah Boyack said that it was vital that the support was delivered as promised.
Meanwhile, rural affairs secretary Richard Lochhead said that the SNP government had provided help for the industry in its hour of need, adding that his party fully recognised that, in the current climate, food production simply had to be underpinned by support measures.
“And we absolutely give our support to continuing with these measures,” he said.