NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick has tried to remain determinedly positive through the 22 months since he was elected with much talk of embracing change and meeting Brexit head on.
But at the Union’s autumn conference at Birnam last week (Oct 26) his opening remarks showed that the relentless barrage of criticism of the farming industry , was making him feel, in his own words, ‘a bit stressed’.
“The negativity driven at our industry, some of it smacking of extremism is wearing.
“Meat is obviously an anathema to some people. We are also accused of being eco-vandals destroying the flora and fauna but that is far from the truth. As farmers we are securing biodiversity, looking after the environment and producing food as well as being the backbone of the rural economy.
“Every year an area the size of Kirkcaldy – about 1,400 hectares - is taken for roads, houses and supermarkets yet we are seen as the eco-bogey men. I can tell you I am getting a bit stressed by it all.”
Mr McCornick quoted the Dark Side of Dairy, the recent BBC documentary purporting to show poor treatment of dairy bull calves exported to Spain, as an example of how the farming industry was being unfairly portrayed.
“It made no mention of the high standards we operate to or the fact that it is the farming industry which is paying for the quality assurance schemes which back up our very high welfare standards,” he said.
Mr McCornick was also scathing about some of the effects of rewilding.
Sea eagles in some areas in the west were now reportedly predating 50 per cent of the lamb crop making sheep farming impossible to sustain.
“At the same time beavers are challenging some of our best land and other areas now have massive problems with geese,” Mr McCornick added.
“It is all a case of getting the balance right. Badgers are now present in such big numbers that ground nesting birds are being wiped out.
The comments surrounding the recently released Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) report had not helped the NFUS president’s mood.
He was ‘not impressed’ with the report.
MPs and MSPs had been taken to farms to see for themselves how EU workers played an invaluable part in the production systems and that they were not being paid low wages. This had all been ignored in the MAC report.
There were still options available in the Brexit discussions but NFU Scotland could not accept a no-deal scenario as anything other than ‘catastrophic’ according to Mr McCornick.
“The sheep industry would be destroyed under World Trade Organisation rules. That would have a knock on effect on the whole meat industry and then the grain sector which supplies the animal feed,” he said.
Mr McCornick had earlier in the week been in London to meet other UK union presidents and found they had much in common not only with each other but also with other EU farming leaders.
He told the NFUS autumn conference: “We need to have a deal and I believe we are slowly inching towards one. It should be a deal which allows us to do what we are doing now as much as possible. The EU is the biggest trading bloc in the world.
“We need the right trade deal and we need access to labour but we have to be able to justify what we are asking for.
"Also we need to hear something specific for Scotland. We have had all the reports from the Agricultural Champions, the National Council of Rural Advisers and the Griggs report on greening. What we need to hear now is some policy.
“I am driven by passion. If you are over 50 years old the world population had doubled since you were born. There are more people alive today than have ever died and they all need food.”