Farmers' climate change reports buried in the purdah flood - Brian Henderson

Just in case you missed it as you grabbed the chance to get on with some spring drilling, last week was pretty busy on the political announcement front.

Climate change must be tackled by the farming  industry as a whole
Climate change must be tackled by the farming industry as a whole

In fact there were more government reports, initiatives, decisions and declarations rolled out last Wednesday than you would normally see during the course of a month of Sundays.

And I’m sure that the fact that the purdah period before the Scottish elections kicked in the very next day was nothing more than a coincidence.

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Traditionally the six-week period prior to elections is a time in which civil servants must be seen to be politically impartial and avoid the announcement of any new or controversial government matters which could be construed as being advantageous to either an individual or a political party.

So, for those keeping a keen weather eye on farming matters, what did we see squeezed into the last few hours before this practice came into effect?

Well, on top of the announcement which materialised from the RHASS about the £750,000 Highland Show bailout, there was also the passing of the new legislation on the control of dogs which saw the fines for attacks on livestock massively increased and bolstered by the threat of a year’s imprisonment (although this received pretty close to unanimous cross-party support).

We also saw the release of the latest Land Use Strategy Report, a paper on the Just Transition towards the country’s greener future, an interim report from the climate assembly, the response to the independent review of deer management and confirmation of the most recent Scottish Agricultural Wages Board order.

You might question just how many of these things were ever likely to be viewed as possibly breaching rules on procedural propriety – but these things are taken very seriously and no one would want to run the risk of a judicial review.

However, in most cases I think that rather than seeking any political gain, their publication was more of a tidying up exercise to get them in before the bell – a bit like the rush to get the last bits of paperwork sorted before the farm assurance assessor visits.

But it was a bit sad to see that the publication of the reports from the farmer-led groups on climate change which were also released on the very same day seemed to get a bit buried in the rush.

And rather than receiving the fanfare and press attention which met the beef suckler group’s initial report which came out last year, the new reports slipped in almost under the radar.

On the positive side, I suppose the pressure to get the reports completed by that deadline provided the discipline of having a target to aim for as with sowing, lambing and calving all kicking in as spring appeared, I suspect that there would have been a bit of a dilution in the keen focus which the members of the groups were willing – or able – to give to the issues, however important they’re going to be in the long term.

Having been a member of one of the groups, I know that the chairs and those tasked with drawing up the reports put a huge amount of effort into producing a set of readable, farmer-focused documents which have addressed the extremely difficult task of changing decades – if not centuries – of mindset.

For, while active farming and food production remain the central feature of all the reports, they also recgonise that taking a King Canute approach to climate change simply won’t work – and that additional aims and other goods and services will need to be delivered by the industry if it’s going to be seen to be doing its bit towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

I would certainly suggest that it will be far better to work to recommendations made by people with practical experience of the industry than it would be to cope with the harsh expediency and big stick which might be wielded if we don’t.

And while the various groups – one for arable, dairy, pigs and crofting and hill and upland, along with the earlier suckler beef group – were set up on a “silo” basis to look at their own individual sectors – a move which could have led to division – I was relieved to see that one of the firm conclusions to be put forward by all was that the issue simply must be tackled in a whole industry way.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

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