'Industry has big part to play in tackling climate change'

ENSURING food production is pushed further up the political agenda, and the development of a climate change strategy for the farming industry, will be "top priority" for NFU Scotland in 2010, says president Jim McLaren.

On the eve of the Oxford Farming Conference, McLaren said it would be short-sighted for the government to cut agricultural support in a short-term attempt to shore up public finances.

"The position of the UK government on farming support, driven by the Treasury, has flown in the face of Scottish views and the mainstream European view for many years," McLaren said.

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"With a general election in the offing, we must take the opportunity to try and change that position by emphasising the huge benefits the UK will continue to reap from an efficient food production industry."

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in England is in the midst of a vicious cost-cutting exercise and Environment Secretary Hilary Benn is on record that he would like to see the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) scrapped.

The current CAP support scheme for agriculture is due to end in 2013 and the industry is already engaged in a wide-ranging discussion on the policy to be adopted from 2014 onwards. The European Commission is due to issue its first formal view of the matter during the year.

"Farmers in Scotland ultimately want their efforts to be rewarded fully by the market," said McLaren. "But in the absence of that, a simple support mechanism which supports sustainable food production and environmental stewardship is crucial."

McLaren also believes agriculture can play a "huge role" in helping Scotland achieve the ambitious targets for reductions in carbon emissions set by the Scottish Government.

"Our potential to deliver on renewable energy sources needs to be grasped," he said.

"The inherently sustainable nature of much of our farming production in Scotland can be bolstered by further moves to increase efficiency, which will lead to further emission reductions. Farmers are part of the solution to climate change, not the cause."

And he added: "There are few certainties looking at the year to come. However, I am crystal clear that Scotland's agricultural industry, as a provider of food and energy security, is a key vehicle for addressing climate change and the foundation of a 10 billion food and drinks industry."