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We need a level playing field for farming.

  • Date: Monday 31st October 2016
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We need a level playing field for farming.

 

In a week full of big business headlines, with Heathrow’s third runway being given the green light and John Lewis appointing its first female managing director, you would be forgiven for overlooking a humble story about Scotland’s farm workforce.

 

But for me, it was one of the most eye-catching stories of the week.

 

Newly released findings from the Agricultural Census have shown the nation’s farm workforce has dipped to the lowest level on record.

 

Yes, despite huge swathes of our dear green country being covered in lush, agricultural land, there are just 63,400 people left farming it.

 

Let’s put that in context for a moment. Of the more than two million private sector and more than half-a-million public sector workers in Scotland at present, upwards of 200,000 people work in retail. The farming workforce pales in comparison.

 

However, it seems the census statistics have only come as a shock to those outwith the sector.

Down almost 2000 workers on last year, marking a three per cent decrease, the latest figures follow a pattern of steady decline and contraction in recent years. Therefore, the result this time round was somewhat inevitable.

 

Not contained to the native workforce either, it seems the number of migrants working days on Scottish farms has also dropped. Indeed, that figure is down seven per cent on last year.

 

The National Farmers Union (NFU) of Scotland called the findings of the census unsurprising and cited declining incomes and support as factors.

 

Whatever the root cause or causes, the question must be asked - are we seeing a knock-on contraction at grass roots level?

 

In actual fact, looking closer at the report’s main findings, we see a varied picture of crop and livestock output.

 

While areas of cereal, oilseed rape and crops for stockfeed all decreased in the last year - along with the number of cattle and holdings – potato-growing areas increased, as did the number of sheep, pigs and poultry on Scottish farms.

 

If the picture wasn’t uncertain enough already, enter Brexit.

 

As you know, farming has become a political hot topic in the Brexit debate, given the extent to which farming is regulated and subsidised, at present, by the European Union.

 

And with everything still up in the air following the Brexit vote in June, it’s true that there may be bigger challenges ahead still for our farmers.

 

Interestingly, their water-borne counterparts, represented by the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, were reportedly encouraged by their talks with the UK and Scottish governments on the subject of Brexit just last week.

 

They memorably campaigned to leave the EU in June, seeing Brexit as an opportunity for the Scottish fishing industry.

 

And while farmers the length and breadth of the country have started discussing what a post-Brexit agricultural sector could look like in Scotland - most recently at the NFU conference on Friday - farming looks set to stay at the top of the news agenda for the foreseeable future.

 

And as for the rest of us, we’ll just have wait and see how the landscape comes into focus.

 

 

 

 

Mary Mel and Sue will rise again

 

The oven door firmly closed on the BBC’s love affair with baking last week, as the final Great British Bake Off was screened.

 

Candice Brown from Bedfordshire was crowned winner of a royal-themed final, with the 31-year-old PE teacher labelling the win the “biggest moment of her life”.

 

The British Bake Off began on BBC2 in 2010 before moving over to a prime-time slot on BBC1 four years later.

 

Last year's final pulled in the highest telly audience of 2015, but then it was announced that the latest series would be the final one on the Beeb after Channel 4 took over the rights.

 

Paul Hollywood has confirmed he’ll be making the switch – presumably for more dough. But tragically for Channel 4 execs, Mary Berry and her soggy bottoms won’t be. The veteran TV cook said she was leaving along with hosts Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins.

 

Programme makers Love Productions haven’t revealed who will take up the spatula in their absence - but say what they like, the whole debacle has been a custard pie in the face of Channel 4 and Love Productions.

 

They should never have sealed the switch without ensuring the talent was secured.

 

There are persistent rumours of a copycat show and Mary Berry has already said she would work with inseparable duo Mel and Sue again.

 

So correct me if meringue, but no matter how much Hollywood, and whoever joins him, knead their new offering – it’s unlikely it will rise to the heights of the BBC showstopper.

 

Force is caught on the hoof.

 

I had to laugh when I saw one Glasgow local had taken the HOOF after a police horse trampled through his garden before the Rangers v Celtic clash earlier this month.

 

Pictures showed the horse standing on the front grass at the property in Aikenhead Road.

 

Resident Ross McKenna said he might be forced to shell out on getting a gardener to repair the equine imprints.

 

Apparently the nag got spooked when fans clashed before the powder-keg match at nearby Hampden Park.

 

But that’s neigh excuse if you ask me – and the least the horse could have done was leave behind some handy fertiliser for Ross to start work on the repair job.

 

WEEP

 

I doubt there is a motorist in the country that hasn’t been stuck in tailbacks on the M74 or M8 in the last year.

 

Now we have the news that the main road between Glasgow and the south, the M74, is to be closed for an ENTIRE weekend next month.

 

The closure is to allow for the now redundant Bothwell Park Road Bridge to be demolished, with the entire schedule of works set to be complete in Spring 2017.

 

It’s calculated that the project will shave approximately 20 minutes off the daily commute from Glasgow to Edinburgh and 15 minutes through the now infamous Raith junction.

 

So hopefully commuters driven round the bend in the months leading up to the fabled completion date will eventually win back those lost hours.

 

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