Operators of farm assurance schemes branded “parasites”

Leaving the EU will give agriculture an opportunity to look at the bureaucratic measures that strangle businesses

The operators of farm assurance schemes such as Red Tractor and Quality Meat Scotland were branded “industry parasites” during a debate on post-Brexit farming at Turriff show.

North east farmer Jim Stewart told a packed marquee it was time for farmers to get back to basics, stop chasing support and start cutting costs.

“When are we going to start getting rid of some of these parasites that are hanging on to our industry and costing us money?” he said.

“It’s high time as an industry we turn round and say enough is enough. We’re out of Europe, we can kiss the single farm payment goodbye.  Let the Europeans produce cheap food but let us produce the quality stuff in Scotland – no disrespect to England and Wales. We’ve got the name, the quality, let’s build on that and to hell with the rest of them.”

Mr Stewart told a panel which included NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick, NFU England deputy president Minette Batters and former fishing skipper Jimmy Buchan that supermarkets cared more about sourcing cheap food than assurance schemes.

He added: “The man from Asda might say he wants little Red Tractors, but he’s quite willing to go to New Zealand and take in lamb, or Brazil and take in beef, or go anywhere in world if price is right. He doesn’t really give a monkey’s about red tractors.”

However Minette Batters insisted the market was demanding assurance and British farmers were lucky to have a home market of 65 million people. She added that it was critical that UK farmers were united in their approach to future farming policy.

“Michael Gove will love your line,” she told Mr Stewart.

“It will suit him down to the ground if he can say Scotland doesn’t agree with Wales or England. He could then play the strongest divide and rule of all time, and he will play it.”

She claimed the “nuclear option” for British agriculture would be a price war together with the challenges of business rates, the national living wage and social regulation in an already difficult market place.

“If retailers step back from Red Tractor, QMS, the Lion mark and everything else that’s about UK assurance and go to global – we are finished,” she said.

“Argentinian beef is retailing a third cheaper than UK beef right now. That’s the alternative. That’s why the loyalty to UK assurance has got to be paramount because if we go to globalised  I promise you, competing with Argentina and Australia, where regulation is 20 years behind ours, it will be really difficult.”