The president of the National Farmers’ Union Scotland has chided Westminster and Holyrood for their promises of “jam tomorrow” for the agricultural sector, warning that continuing uncertainty over Brexit means there could be “no bread to put that jam on”.
Speaking ahead of this week’s Royal Highland Show, which coincides with the third anniversary of the EU referendum. Andrew McCornick said Brexit has led to high levels of “frustration and uncertainty” among the union’s 9,000 members
McCornick said: “As president of the union, I’m a lobbyist and I’m working with politicians at Westminster and Holyrood all the time. Both parliaments are promising us jam tomorrow but if they’re not very careful, there is going to be no bread to put that jam on.”
The union has been pushing both administrations to guarantee free and frictionless trade, access to a non-UK workforce, and a new, fully funded agricultural policy, all to no avail.
McCornick, added: “Despite the best efforts of NFU Scotland and the wider business lobby, there remains little certainty as to what the landscape for Scottish farm and croft businesses will be outside of the EU.”
Steven Thomson, a senior agricultural economist at Scotland’s Rural College, told Scotland on Sunday that concern over Brexit was highest among Scotland’s sheep farmers.
He explained: “Come October, a significant proportion of the lambs born this year will be sold to the EU market, and the sheep sector is the most exposed.
“A higher proportion of their profit comes from Common Agricultural Policy support payments than any other sector – it accounts for 60 to 70 per cent of turnover at some farms.”
Thomson said the key issues facing the agriculture sector were trade and currency exchange, adding: “Even those farmers who were in the remain camp just want to see something done. Ultimately, the uncertainty is scuppering business opportunities and investment decisions.”
Paul Flanagan, the Scotland director of the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, which represents farmers, growers and others in the supply chain, said that its own survey of farmers and growers found that just over half are taking a “wait and see” approach in terms of business planning.
He added: “We know that the future prosperity of the agriculture sector is most affected by tariffs and non-tariff barriers, such as customs checks, which means it is critical we secure access to the European market which is as tariff-free and frictionless as possible.”
The Commons Scottish Affairs Committee is currently looking at the future of Scotland’s agriculture sector post-Brexit. The Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, told the committee earlier this month that the lack of any agricultural bill from Holyrood was “deeply worrying” and was stoking uncertainty.
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said the UK government was increasingly acting as a “road black” to its post-Brexit planning, but stressed there was a “clear five year plan” to provide “stability and simplicity” to farmers and food producers throughout the Brexit transition and beyond.
He said: “We are clear that a ‘no deal’ Brexit is the single biggest threat to the rural economy and communities.”