Alan Laidlaw: Farming show best by a country mile

Alan Laidlaw, RHASS Chief Executive
Alan Laidlaw, RHASS Chief Executive
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Farming is a key industry in Scotland, which is ­apparent as you drive around the country. Our landscape has been farmed for generations to produce some incredible food for our families. But Brexit has brought about uncertainty, especially for some farms, and if we want to ­continue having quality food produced in Scotland, we must address how this is delivered.

The old saying of “get what you pay for” is timeless and has resurfaced when debating farm support. A recent survey showed a huge majority of the public back farm support but, as many farmers would agree, there needs to be a new agreement between consumer and farmer. We are all more aware of the environmental impact of our shop than ever before, and I see this as being key to future support.

The Royal Highland Show is an important showcase for Scottish farming. Picture: Lenny Warren.

The Royal Highland Show is an important showcase for Scottish farming. Picture: Lenny Warren.

Many consumers, like businesses, want to see a return on their investment. So, although the public are in favour of farm support, they want to know what they get back. This ­may be local, quality, welfare assurances, environmental schemes or sustainability– it’s important they understand what they get, what farmers are doing.

By nature, farmers are not generally good at selling themselves, or, sometimes, their produce, but we really do have some of the best food in the world. We have strict codes of ­conducts, full traceability, high welfare standards, and a professional and dedicated workforce, with the best interests of the Scottish ­countryside at their heart.

We have some of the best track records for animal protection safety and welfare in the world and I think we should be really proud of that.

One of the remits of RHASS is ­to promote Scottish agriculture, and we work with many organisations to ensure we help society understand farming and rural life in Scotland and, importantly, its relevance to their lives. It’s an important message that affects everyone in Scotland, regardless of whether you are involved in farming – you are involved because you are a consumer, a ­resident and a beneficiary of what Scottish agriculture does for the country.

One way in which we support and encourage the best of Scottish ­agriculture is through RHET ­(Royal Highland Education Trust), which does an incredible job at working with schools to teach the next ­generation about how their food is produced and where the food they eat comes from. Some of their events are life-changing to children, introducing them to an industry they were completely unaware of.

We also communicate with the wider public through what has now become Scottish largest outdoor event, The Royal Highland Show. The show gives people the opportunity to see what farming is all about, not only the livestock, but the crops, the machines and all the associated businesses that drive this industry. The show plays an important role in getting city and countryside together and allowing both to be better informed and to engage in discussion.

We also encourage innovation. New developments lead to better efficiencies and make a stronger industry. Farming, like many other industries, has seen tremendous change with new technologies in recent years, and we are heavily involved with awards to encourage today’s young people to create ideas to produce and promote the food for tomorrow. If you want to shape the “farming deal” between producer and consumer, the show is a great place to start.

We must also continue to work with other organisations to promote ­agriculture. Some may not be ­obvious at first –Essential Edinburgh, Edinburgh Trams, our long-standing relationship with the Royal Bank of Scotland; all help us reach new audiences and engage with consumers.

If you are inspired to learn more about your food, the people that care for it and the ways in which it is ­produced, then why not come along? These businesses are truly the backbone of the local communities throughout Scotland and it’s important that we all understand their ­connection to our own daily lives.

Come to the Royal Highland Show at Ingliston on 21-24 June – meet ­producers, talk to the farmers, taste the products – you will not be disappointed. You can find out more at www.royalhighlandshow.org

Alan Laidlaw, RHASS chief executive.