With Andrea Leadsom, the UK government secretary of state for the environment, food and rural affairs, refusing to comment on agricultural issues during her first official visit to Scotland yesterday, it was left to NFU Scotland to highlight their concerns over Brexit.
The union used the 45-minute early morning slot with the minister to stress the importance of the many varied sectors of farming in Scotland involved in the production of food.
Speaking after the meeting, union officials said they had highlighted the importance to Scotland of securing a robust trade deal with the EU and with other trading partners as such deals would profoundly influence future agricultural and rural policy in Scotland.
Also prominent in the issues raised with the minister was the need to ensure new trade deals did not entail higher costs, customs controls, barriers or tariffs. All of those potential hurdles would require, according to the union, mitigation measures if they were entangled in any new trading arrangements.
The importance of the Scottish brand and the value of existing PGI products in the marketplace were also raised by the farm leaders who sought assurances that Scottish provenance, quality and high production standards would be protected. The minister was reported to have “taken these matters on board”.
NFUS president Allan Bowie said: “We were keen to impress on the secretary of state our desire to see agriculture at the heart of Brexit negotiations. There are opportunities ahead for our industry that can be realised if we secure the right trading arrangements with Europe as well as prioritising the countries with who we want to secure new trade deals.”
Bowie added other union concerns including having access to labour so that domestic agricultural policy could prioritise production.
“The secretary of state is clearly aware of the unique challenges that our Scottish industry will face in the next few years and we were encouraged by her straight talking and willingness to engage. We have confidence that she is someone that we can work with to capitalise on the opportunities that Brexit can bring to Scotland.
“As a union, we look forward to working positively and constructively with her and her department over the coming weeks and months, as we enter a hugely important period for the future for our sector.
“That engagement is crucial. In Scotland, agricultural production is just the start of a supply chain which underpins a successful food and drinks sector, which has grown into the biggest manufacturing industry that we have.”