Ewing brings good news to first day of Highland Show

With the opening day of the Royal Highland Show coinciding with the European Union referendum vote, the agricultural industry probably accounted for a large proportion of the postal votes cast.

Craig Hanna with Macfin Diamond Queen, the Clydesdale Overall Winner, garlanded in rosettes. Picture: TSPL
Craig Hanna with Macfin Diamond Queen, the Clydesdale Overall Winner, garlanded in rosettes. Picture: TSPL

For the tens of thousands of farmers who travel from across the country, attending the local polling station was difficult – while those who waited until the polling stations were open encountered the full fury of Edinburgh rush-hour traffic.

But at the show itself there was a distinct lack of the political buzz which has been present during recent years. With the early rumblings of the EU referendum last year and campaigning for the Scottish independence referendum fulfilling the same role for the two years before that, a seemingly endless round of political heavy­weights have added to the show’s gravitas.

It was the new boy on the block who was to the fore yesterday, as Fergus Ewing, the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, made his first visit to the show in the new job.

Kicking off with a repeat of the apology he made to the industry in Holyrood for the IT debacle which had significantly delayed farm support payments, he went on to announce that the majority of Scotland’s farmers should see the outstanding second tranche of payments delivered into their bank accounts over the next few weeks.

With his officials revealing that payment of around €9 million (£6.9m) to around 500 farmers – from the 18,000 eligible producers – had already been actioned, Ewing said that the rest of the balance payments should be going out “in the very near future”.

The news was welcomed by NFU Scotland, with union president Allan Bowie stating that it had been a “long and acrimonious” journey to get to the point where all Scottish farmers and crofters would eventually receive the full amount of support due to their businesses.

He said he hoped the payments would finally fill the huge hole in Scotland’s rural economy which had emerged over the first half of 2016.

But the cabinet secretary brought more than one string of beads for the natives – Ewing also revealed that he was set to take steps to help remove some of the bureaucracy and costs which had been imposed on the red meat sector during the Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) crisis of the 1990s.

He said that, as Scotland had now been clear of the disease for long enough to qualify for “negligible risk” status for the disease, he was to consult with the industry on moves to have these restrictions lifted.

He said: “Achieving BSE negligible risk status could help open up markets across the world for these premium products and potentially reduce waste and inefficiencies in the supply chain worth more than £1 million.”

A promise to push forward with the long-standing issue on the repatriation of red meat levies – which has seen a leakage on levies paid on animals born and bred in Scotland but sold south of the Border to English and Welsh promotional bodies – was also made.

He said: “An agreement has been reached for a solution between the bodies themselves but what is needed now is the political will to push ahead with this. That is why I have written to UK farming minister, George Eustice, to press on with discussions.”