Maree Todd: Farming Fears with Brexit

Maree ToddIt was very clear from views aired during Orkney’s recent agricultural show season that islanders are concerned about the future of the industry that is the backbone of the local economy.

Almost 1000 folk at the Dounby and County shows signed a petition backing the case for an abattoir for Kirkwall, organised by rare breeds farmer Jane Cooper, while the majority of those who visited the Orkney SNP stall to give their views on the Brexit-o-meter didn’t think leaving the EU would be good for farming or fishing either.

With brands as strong as Orkney Beef and Orkney Lamb, along with Orkney Scottish Island Cheddar to protect, is it any wonder folk are starting to voice fears for the industry in the face of looming Brexit disaster?

I know that my Government colleague Fergus Ewing, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy,will be in listening mode when he visits Orkney next month, and will be keen to gather views on these and many other issues.

And this week it appears that Orkney’s concerns are reflected across the livestock sector in Scotland and its Celtic neighbours. I see that livestock representatives from NFU Scotland, the Ulster Farmers’ Union and NFU Cymru are worried at the prospect of the UK leaving the EU next March with no trade deal in place, and feel it would have serious implications for the UK’s beef and sheep sectors.

The comments were made following a recent meeting in Belfast, where discussions focused on the possibility of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit outcome and the UK’s future agricultural policy. NFU Scotland Livestock Committee Vice Chairman Jimmy Ireland said that such an outcome ‘could have unthinkable consequences on Scottish farms and crofts’.

With the vast majority of over £380 million of UK lamb and sheep meat currently being exported to European markets, the clear view is that any imposition of barriers to trade as a result of Brexit will impact thousands of sheep and cattle farmers across Scotland and the rest of the UK.

The farming leaders are rightly extremely concerned about what they termed the ‘potential devastating consequences’ a ‘No Deal’ scenario and associated trade export tariffs could bring on the sector. They say that the whole of the rural economy would be affected, with lower production levels having a knock-on effect on the landscape and environment.

I sincerely hope that the UK Government is now in full listening mode, as the farming unions say they are now committed to working together to highlight this to decision makers over the summer and autumn as the Tories at Westminster enter a critical period in the Brexit negotiations.

It is clear that the majority of Scottish voters currently feel ignored in this whole Brexit process, basically because we really are being ignored. We voted to remain by a large margin, and in every Scottish local authority area. But we are going because our big next door neighbour wants to. A second independence referendum may be Scotland’s only route out of this shambles.

This is a fortnightly column by local MSP Maree Todd, SNP. All list MSPs for the area were sent an invite to publish their views.

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