FARMING has always been a tough and unpredictable industry for those who work in it, and conditions don’t appear to be getting easier.
Dairy farmers, as has been extensively reported over recent years, have been placed under ever greater pressure by supermarkets which have cut to the bone the amount they are willing to pay for milk. Increased importation of food has further increased pressure on an industry upon which a great many Scottish livelihoods depend.
There is a moral as well as a practical obligation to ensure the industry is kept alive
Today, we report on another blow to Scots farming. Scotland’s cereal farmers face financial catastrophe as several factors collide to threaten their businesses. The cold, wet summer has led to an increase in pests and diseases, the slower ripening of crops, a poorer quality of produce and lower yields in a number of areas.
On top of this, depressed global market prices created by bumper crops south of the Border and excessive leftover stocks from last year have compounded the disaster facing growers.
Those working Scottish fields can only hope for an Indian summer, a spell of good weather that might allow them to harvest produce which is dry rather than water-logged.
According to one industry expert, “everything is against” cereal farmers this year. The circumstances in which they find themselves mean pressure now and difficulty in planning for the future. A bad harvest this year could have implications for a long time to come. As if the pressures on cereal farmers were not great enough, the industry faces other, man-made problems.
New regulations, designed to protect the environment and protect the purity of crops, mean that farmers are restricted on how they can protect their crops.
Agriculture is worth about £800 million a year to the Scottish economy. By any standards, it is a crucial part of our national economy. But the recent difficult conditions, it is feared, might drive some out of an industry that has already suffered more than its share of hard knocks.
Ian Sands, of NFU Scotland, says that some may be able to weather the storm but for others, many of whom will have devoted their entire working lives to the land, enough will be enough. In some instances, banks will make the decision for the individual farmer and the For Sale sign will go up.
Food security is of paramount importance. We recognise that the provenance of produce matters and that the days when chemicals could be used without compunction are long past.
And, of course, we also accept that there is nothing to be done about adverse weather conditions. The rain will come during a Scottish summer. That is simply a fact of life.
But that does not mean that our governments – both north and south of the Border – and our elected representatives in Europe can do nothing. That cannot, surely, be the case?
Global markets bring often intolerable pressures on farmers, even when the crops are good and healthy, and we have to look at how those who work the land are supported.
The Scottish economy has benefited for a very long time from the hard work of farmers and we believe there is a moral as well as a practical obligation to ensure the industry is kept alive.
Recently, the Scottish Government proudly announced that it was to outlaw the cultivation of all genetically modified crops in Scotland. This was certainly a fashionable decision, speaking as it did of first-class “green credentials”. But we believe that decision may yet prove to be short-sighted.
If science can help to create crops which are more resilient to Scotland’s climate then it seems a dereliction of duty for our Government to refuse to allow further exploration.
For a very long time, the SNP was seen as a party of rural Scotland. Its recent success has seen it refocus its attention on urban areas.
It is time, now, for the Scottish Government to remember its roots in the countryside and do more to assist farmers in desperate need of help.
Compassion must lead by example
DAYS after the world saw it, the image lingers in the mind. A photograph of the lifeless body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach, told us more than any number of words could about the human tragedy unfolding as Syrians flee their war-ravaged country. A dead child reminded us that refugees are not some inconvenience to be discussed then dismissed by opportunistic politicians. Rather, they are just like us.
Aylan Kurdi was like any three-year-old. Only his great misfortune marked him out.
Prime Minister David Cameron reacted to a growing public desire to help by announcing that the UK will provide resettlement to “thousands” more Syrian refugees.
The PM has not, thus far, specified an exact number, but his indication that the UK stands ready to help is to be welcomed. So, too, is his announcement of a further £100 million in humanitarian aid for those currently in camps in Syria, Turkey, Jordan, and the Lebanon.
But the Prime Minister’s announcement that the extra refugees to be welcomed to the UK would come only from camps bordering Syria and would not include any who have already made it to Europe causes some concern. Compassion cannot stop at a border.
The priority here is not about hitting targets, meeting quotas. It is about alleviating human misery. And so we hope the Prime Minister can be persuaded that the UK should be more flexible on this point.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is to be commended for her response to the crisis, signalling that Scotland will do all it can by announcing her readiness to take 1,000 extra refugees.
But there is a risk, when there is such a vocal public response to a crisis such as this, that we believe the public is united in a desire to help. Sadly, this is not the case, and many will resist an increase in the number of refugees.
That is why we require strong leadership from both Cameron and Sturgeon. They must not pander to those who feel the UK should do no more.
Instead, they must continue to show leadership and to do what is right, regardless of the potential electoral consequences.