Rural businesses facing unprecedented challenges over food standards and climate change

Press Release

The twin tests of Brexit and maintaining Scotland’s high quality food production should not detract from the biggest challenge of our time – halting climate change.

Mark Tennant, chairman of Scottish Land & Estates (SLE), which represents rural businesses, said serious choices of priorities lie ahead both for government and food producers as the clock ticks towards the EU trade deal deadline in January.

Mr Tennant was speaking at SLE’s annual conference. He said it was now incumbent on farming businesses and land managers to ‘go further and go faster’ in their contributions to combating carbon emissions.

Amongst those also addressing the conference today are Dieter Helm, Professor of Economic Policy at the University of Oxford, Alister Jack MP, Secretary of State for Scotland, Fergus Ewing MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy, Oliver Mundell, MSP, Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Tourism, Colin Smyth MSP, Scottish Labour's Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity and Liam McArthur MSP, Liberal Democrat spokesman on Justice and Energy. 

Mark Tennant said: “Rural businesses are not immune from the difficulties of 2020. Indeed, our rural economies have most to fear through the uncertainty of Brexit and the worries of future export tariffs and substandard food imports – and that’s without considering the seismic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Yet, as hard as these challenges are, we must not take our focus away from climate change – and it is incumbent on farmers, land managers and estates to continue to help Scotland meet its targets in this area. 

“As we transition from the Common Agricultural Policy, there is an opportunity to enact a huge change in how we deliver from our land. Quality food production and carbon sequestration in Scotland’s uplands are not diametrically opposed – we can have the best of both worlds. 

“Every stakeholder needs to go further and go faster – we cannot continue to wait. We need a fresh, ambitious support package to replace the CAP after 2024 that will deliver for food, biodiversity and the environment and we need to start the process of transitioning towards that now. That involves the sharing of skills, data and science to maximise our efficiency. Productivity and efficiency go hand in hand and are the surest way to achieving profitability.” 

SLE also welcomed recent political developments including the planned statutory footing for the Trade and Agriculture Commission (TAC) as well as the Farming for 1.5 report – which was published on Monday- as important steps in the future of Scottish farming and land management. 

Sarah Jane Laing, chief executive of Scottish Land & Estates, said: “We published our #Route2050 blueprint last year which mapped out the need for a Land Use Strategy that integrates food, energy, carbon sequestration, timber, water management and natural capital outcomes.

“The Farming for 1.5 report is a welcome publication which demonstrates a clear pathway for the agriculture sector to drive down emissions whilst retaining productivity, quality and boosting biodiversity.

“More than ever, the public wants to consume high quality local produce that is produced in an ethically and environmentally friendly way. Scottish and British farming should always have the edge over cheaper, foreign imports as a result of this consumer demand but we are pleased the UK Government has taken steps to address the concerns about substandard food. The question now for Scottish farming is how it adds further strings to its environmental bow. We as land managers need to go further and we also need the knowledge exchange tools provided by government to help.”