Call for MSPs to put vibrant rural economy at the heart of Scotland
With Scottish Parliamentary elections now eight weeks away, Scotland’s farmers and crofters are to rally at the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh tomorrow (Thursday 10 March) to highlight to Scotland’s politicians the importance of a vibrant rural economy to the whole nation.
With prices for virtually every farm commodity on the floor and having endured the wettest winter on record, Scottish farmers and crofters want all Scottish MSPs ahead of the May election to understand that the farming industry’s position as the cornerstone of the whole rural community is under threat.
The Union will use the rally to reiterate to Scottish politicians that Scottish agriculture produces £3 billion of high quality food and drink annually, more than 67,000 people are directly employed in Scottish agriculture and a further 360,000 people are employed in a Scottish food and drink sector, currently valued at £14 billion. In addition, Scottish farmers and crofters are responsible for the environmental safekeeping of land equivalent to more than 2.1 million football pitches and, increasingly, farm-based businesses are driving forward Scotland’s tourism sector and our renewable energy ambitions.
A key driver behind the current cash crisis on farms is Scottish Government’s problems delivering support payments to farmers and crofters because of its £180 million investment in a flawed IT system. Last night’s announcement from Scottish Government, ahead of a meeting between First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead and NFU Scotland officials, mapped out a mechanism to get the majority of CAP support into the rural economy in the next six weeks.
To date, only £103 million of CAP basic support has been paid out from a total budget of almost £400 million. Along with poor commodity prices, that has impacted on farmers and those businesses who have farmers as their main customer.
Ahead of the elections in May, NFU Scotland is already planning to stage a national rural hustings event, involving other stakeholders, to which party leaders have been invited to attend. This will be a key opportunity for leaders to identify how they would tackle the current crisis in the rural economy and map out their vision for the future of rural Scotland.
Speaking ahead of the rally at Holyrood tomorrow (10 March), NFU Scotland President Allan Bowie said: “In less than three weeks, the parliamentary process at Holyrood will shut down as focus turns to Scottish Parliamentary elections on Thursday, 5 May. Rural matters must be a key consideration for all MSPs who have the countryside as part of their constituency and the rally will give them the opportunity to speak to farmers and rural businesses.
“We want them to hear about the fantastic job our industry is doing – day in, day out – in looking after the land, supporting rural businesses and putting food and drink in front of the nation’s citizens in what have been the most trying of circumstances.
“The failure to properly deliver farm support payments to the sector this spring has blown a hole in the rural economy. That has shown how vulnerable farming businesses are and how reliant hundreds of businesses and thousands of jobs are on primary producers. Last night’s announcement on support delivery finally gives some clarity and certainty and we will be working flat out to ensure that what is on the table from Scottish Government becomes a reality.
“Rest assured, when much-needed funds are delivered, they will be used to pay wages, invest in businesses and secure the livestock, feed, seed, fertiliser and machinery needed to ensure Scotland continues to grow and rear the raw materials for our food and drink sector.
“The public are right to ask why support is still so important to Scottish farming. The reality is that the marketplace continues to fail producers and that support helps ensure continued supplies of safe, affordable food.
“Alarm bells should already be ringing with our politicians. Scottish farm incomes have fallen for two consecutive years and, barring a seismic shift in fortunes, returns from the market place in 2016 are likely to show further declines. We need our political representatives to challenge the fairness in our supply chains. When our food and drink sector is justifiably lauded as a huge success story, and its value to the Scottish economy is growing, we need to know why those putting in the graft on farms and crofts aren’t getting a fair share of the rewards for the risk they carry.
“When the prices on shelves for great Scottish products like beef, lamb and cheese have remained static, our politicians need to engage with the food supply chain and identify why the share of the margin going back to the farm gate has fallen?
“Given that low commodity prices are hammering the viability of farms, Europe has the option to introduce important measures that would support its farmers and we look to our Cabinet Secretary Richard Lochhead to stand with us in Brussels next week (14 March) as we work with other UK unions and UK farming ministers to secure meaningful measures at a European level to mitigate the impact of the Russian food ban and the collapse in world commodity prices.
“Although this is the busiest time of year, with calving, lambing, sowing and spring work all underway, we will be bringing members from across Scotland, as well as young farmers, new entrants and representatives of the supply trade to Holyrood tomorrow (Thursday 10 March) to impress upon all MSPs the importance of a vibrant rural economy to the whole of Scotland.
“Without a doubt, the rural economy will be a hugely important element of all election manifestos and we need politicians of all parties to show their mettle on this matter.”

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