Scotland’s farming industry pulled out all the stops to celebrate the return of the Royal Highland Show in a blaze of flags, rosettes, rings full of gleaming livestock and a bumper food hall.
The show organisers confirmed a record Thursday attendance up 20% on 2019’s figures with just shy of 50,000 people visiting the show, which delighted chief executive Alan Laidlaw who said the turn-out highlighted just how anticipated the event has been.
But while exhibitors engaged in fierce competition and show goers revelled in meeting up for the first time since 2019, behind the scenes the talk was dominated by food
security concerns and unprecedented input price rises which NFU Scotland (NFUS) says is prompting many farmers to consider scaling back production.
The union revealed a survey which showed 92% of respondents had already altered production plans as a result of the trebling of fertiliser and energy prices and the doubling of prices for fuel and animal feed.
Union president Martin Kennedy insisted food prices must rise, supermarkets need to “take a reality check”, and governments need to look at the implications of what happens if people stop producing food in Scotland.
“We have an obligation to produce food – but not at a loss,” he said.
“I totally understand where the consumers are and they are having to pay a lot more as inflation is hitting them ready hard.
“But if they don’t pay more for the product we are producing just now they are going to end up paying a hell of a sight more further down the track.”
Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon agreed that escalating costs meant it was essential that primary producers are paid a fair price and added that the crisis will influence future farming policy.
She added: “I’ve had engagement with Quality Meat Scotland and retailers, particularly in relation to the pig sector, to ensure they’re doing what they can to stock Scottish pork and ensure that producers are being paid a fair price or the threat is that we can potentially see people leave the industry.
“That does then mean that consumers then face a higher cost and retailers are trying to keep that cost down and make food affordable for people.”
Mr Kennedy said supermarkets weren’t taking food security as seriously as the farming industry, and despite the pig industry going through the floor some retailers were still importing pig meat from overseas.
However, he added that the penny was finally dropping that a critical mass of production is not only essential for food security, but also central to the government meeting climate change and biodiversity targets.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Government announced the creation of a Food Security Unit which they said would “monitor risks, increase resilience in food production and respond rapidly to emerging issues”.
It was one of the recommendations of the Food Security and Supply Taskforce established earlier this year to recommend short, medium and longer-term actions to resolve supply issues.
Other recommendations include government and Food Standards Scotland engaging with the Groceries Adjudicator to assess whether the current supply chain is working in the long-term interests of consumer choice, food security ad retailers.
NFUS chief executive Scott Walker welcomed the report but added: “The blocks are there but action is what counts.”