The crowd of 250 heard from Union President Allan Bowie before being addressed by Deputy First Minister John Swinney, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs Richard Lochhead; Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson; Scottish Liberal Democrats leader Willie Rennie and Scottish Labour spokesperson Sarah Boyack.
Eight weeks before a Scottish election, Scottish farmers and crofters sought to engage with all Scottish MSPs ahead of the May election to underline that the farming industry’s position as the cornerstone of the whole rural community is under threat. The double whammy of poor prices and a calamitous delivery of support payments to the sector has created a cash flow crisis that has hit farms and all those businesses that supply them with goods.
Under the banner #nofarmersnofood, the Union used 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.
Speaking at the rally, President Allan Bowie said: “Hundreds of Scottish farmers and crofters took time away from their farms to impress on Scottish politicians the importance of farming to the rural economy and the people of Scotland.
“The unanimous message given by Scotland’s leading politicians to farmers today is that they recognise that farming matters and that the rural community matters. We want those words to translate into actions and when party manifestos emerge in the next few weeks, issues relevant to farming, food and the rural economy must be front and centre.
“The calamitous delivery of support to the sector is the key contributor to a £300 million black hole in Scotland’s rural economy. This week, the intervention of the First Minister saw her meet many of our asks and we at last have a clear timeline and guarantees when that funding gap will be plugged. That is a huge step forward for farmers and crofters but also for all those who rely on them as customers.
“But politicians must also address our dysfunctional supply chain. At a time when Scotland’s food and drink sector is growing in value, returns to the farm gate have fallen two years in a row and are set to fall again. For the farming community standing here today, we want to be part of the Scotland food and drink industry success story but the fact we are continually failing to get a fair margin needs to be addressed.
“Why we came here today was to get recognition that farming does matter and we need a food policy that recognises that, as farmers, we are the ones that take the risks to produce this high quality food.
“This is the first time in the history of the new Scottish Parliament that Scottish farmers and crofters have been here in such numbers. The Scottish public want us to keep producing food, supporting local economies and delivering the fantastic landscape that Scotland enjoys. It is now up to Scottish Government to meet its own deadlines on delivering vital support and all political parties to ensure their manifestos will take the Scottish rural economy forward.”