In a day dominated by Brexit, the first Oxford Farming conference debate held at the Royal Highland Show yesterday focused on the issue and the industry’s ability to survive.
And there was a unanimous view that farming would weather the storm – but there was a wide range of opinions on what was required to ensure that this happened without causing undue fallout within the industry.
• READ MORE: Farming news
Former NFUS president and MEP, George Lyon, said three major issues would have to be addressed.
“Once the budget is back in UK hands farming will need to compete with the health service, education and police and security in securing its share of the budget,” he said.
Lyon said the second issue will be the likelihood of greater competition from imports coming into the country – and the third would be a possible shortage of labour.
He added: “The question is not whether the industry will survive and thrive but more who will do so – and farmers should be asking themselves if they are prepared to take the steps in order to ensure that they are the ones to prosper in the new regime, or if now is the time to move into another walk of life.”
NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick said that a transitional period of support would be required until new trade deals settled in.
However, he argued that support payments were good value for money: “In Scotland the figure show that for every pound invested in farm support £5.38 is put back into the economy by the industry – and if that’s not good value for money, I don’t know what is.”
• Despite indications earlier in the day from rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing that farm support payments were moving apace, last night it emerged from EC sources that the Scottish Government has applied for a two-month extension, to October.
With the IT system still not free from problems, taking up an extension could offer a route to reduce the administration’s exposure to EU fines.
Farmers at the show reacted angrily to the likelihood of further delays to their payments – and to the fact that the move had not been flagged up by politicians attending the show yesterday.
NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick said: “If the extension saves the Scottish taxpayer £60 million in fines, that is good news – but it takes the thousands of Scottish farmers and crofters who are still waiting on part or all of their payments no further forward and with no clear timetable provided.
“Some of those payments have been outstanding for 18 months. That is wholly unacceptable.”