Although the primary reason for European agriculture and rural development commissioner Phil Hogan coming to Scotland later this month is to head up a debate on the UK’s future in Europe, NFU Scotland has confirmed he would also be taken on to a farm to highlight some of its concerns.
The debate – entitled In or Out? The implications for Scottish food and farming – will be held on Thursday 19 May, five weeks before Britain votes on European Union membership.
The MacRobert Pavilion at Edinburgh’s Royal Highland Showground will host the debate, with representatives from both the In and Out campaigns taking part.
The EU membership vote takes place on 23 June, coinciding with the opening day of this year’s Royal Highland Show, Scotland’s biggest agricultural event. Both the NFUS and the Highland Show organisers have encouraged people planning to attend the show to consider organising a postal vote.
Hogan is the first speaker to confirm his attendance but the union expects a high-profile figure from the Vote Leave campaign to be confirmed in the next few days, at which point registration to attend the debate will open.
Hogan attended last year’s Royal Highland Show in his official capacity, before visiting the Hamilton family’s arable, beef and sheep unit at Garvald Mains near Haddington. This year, the commissioner will visit the Dandie family at Learielaw, Broxburn who run a large arable farm with suckler cow and beef finishing enterprises.
Commenting on the commissioner’s visit, union president Allan Bowie said: “Given the importance of Europe as a market for our produce, and the Common Agricultural Policy as a major support structure for our iconic food and farming industries, debate on the issue of EU membership is of huge significance to every farmer and crofter in Scotland.”
Bowie confirmed that the union position was that farmers would prefer to farm without the financial support they currently receive from the EU. “But the reality is that most don’t make enough from selling their produce in the marketplace – either at home or in export markets – for this to be possible.”
He believed the debate would provide all those engaged in it with an opportunity to hear first-hand what ongoing EU membership or Brexit might meant to them.