A farming year like no other
It’s now a little over a year since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Scotland.
When you add Brexit into the mix too, life has changed considerably, including in the rural sector.
That said, the rural industry has a reputation for identifying and grasping opportunities, even in the toughest of times.
Complex supply chains
Right from the outset of the first lockdown, food production and a potential labour shortage were under the spotlight. This has not changed in many respects. Brexit has brought new labour issues, especially in relation to seasonal workers who are hugely important to the food production sector. These issues are still unfolding, regardless of the ongoing pandemic.
A year ago, with panic buying at its height, many supermarket shelves were bare and while farmers stepped up with the likes of milk, meat and vegetable deliveries, the vast majority were not, and aren’t, in a position by nature of their location or type of farming, to stand alone and supply direct to the consumer in any volume.
As a response we have seen many farm businesses finding strength in collaboration through engaging with cooperatives, strengthening their bargaining power and also building resilience in the supply chain.
These cooperatives, owned by individual members rather than investors, and run by, and for, the members are a model used to great effect throughout Europe and are being increasingly embraced in the complex post Brexit landscape.
In particular they can bring additional support to increase supply and investment in technology, work to attract new entrants into the industry and provide resources in relation to immigration rules and the negotiation of supply contracts.
Responsible access in farming
For those keen to get out and about during the lockdowns, the good news was the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 gives everyone a right of responsible access to most land and inland water in this country.
Unfortunately, not everyone behaves responsibly in line with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
Clients have reported sheep and cattle worrying, littering, fence damage, and dog fouling as well as people leaving gates open and parking where they shouldn’t.
Our advice to farmers is unchanged — it’s about balance.
Whilst the public can, and will, exercise their right of responsible access, education and co-operation are key.
A good starting point is guiding and informing — with lockdowns there have been a lot of newcomers to the countryside. Signage, for example, can help people see what paths they should use, understand that they should keep dogs on their leads and take their litter home.
With both another lambing season and an another lockdown ongoing, the lack of control of dogs is on the increase again. NFUS is urging MSPs to support and strengthen the measures relating to their control in the protection of livestock bill currently making its way through the Scottish Parliament.
In the meantime, should you have concerns or a recurring problem, contact your local NFU secretary, local authority, or lawyer to chat things through.
Agritourism, what next?
From glamping and farm shops to holiday lets and camping sites, for years farmers and rural business owners have looked at ways of generating new income streams.
One area that attracted a great deal of debate was the introduction of a bill that contained a proposal that the use of a residential house for a short-term let would be a material change of use and would need planning permission. This was lobbied against successfully and the bill was withdrawn. This was seen as a very positive result, especially for fledgling diversified rural businesses.
The pandemic and Brexit have both forced us to adjust and adapt. While this year promises fresh challenges, there are opportunities to build a sustainable future for rural businesses in an ever-more complex and competitive environment. I have no doubt the rural community will grasp them.