All three contenders for NFU Scotland’s (NFUS) vice-presidential roles have pledged, if elected, to do more to counter the negative image of farming in the general media.
The first hustings in a 10-date tour of the country kicked off in Perth where Martin Kennedy, Ian Sands and Charlie Adam said Scottish farmers were tired of being cast as the “bad guys” and admitted the union had to do much more to counter the misrepresentation of the industry.
Charlie Adam, a livestock and cereals producer from Aboyne, said NFUS communications were currently too focused on farmers themselves and needed to be redirected.
“As an industry, we do education and open farm Sundays and these things are winning some people over, but we need to win the whole nation over,” he said.
His solutions included the introduction of an NFUS associate membership for the public – so they could have access to key facts – and a greater farmer presence on social media.
“We’re a lobbying organisation and we don’t want to go to war with environmentalists or anybody else and we need to be cleverer and work with people whenever possible,” he said.
“It is farmers who will deliver most of what environmentalists want and we can do it better than we’re doing now and with less economic cost and less loss of production.
“Scottish products are more environmentally friendly than most products in the world and that’s a USP we need to make the most of.
“We certainly need to make sure the people who are going to eat our meat are presented with the facts that don’t stop them doing so.”
The other two candidates, Ian Sands, who grows cereals at Balbeggie, and Martin Kennedy, a hill farmer from Aberfeldy, were on home territory.
Mr Sands argued that many critics based their accusations on opinion rather than science or evidence.
He said: “An element of the population has unfairly blamed agriculture for more and more of our environmental problems and the union needs to fight back and counter these criticisms by giving proven facts and science.
“We need to get our views and arguments into the mainstream rather than farming magazines.
“We need to spend less money on meetings and do more social media.”
Sitting vice-president Martin Kennedy focused his criticism on environmentalists and vegans and said farmers and crofters had never felt so undervalued.
“Vegans are never out of the press, giving us a bashing,” he said.
“If they’d just keep their own beliefs to themselves without trying to convert others with false claims, I’d have no beef with them at all.
“Most don’t understand the bigger picture or beef production’s contribution to climate change as hill farming and grazing livestock help sequester carbon from the atmosphere.”
Politicians also came in for criticism and Mr Adam insisted many needed to learn some “practical realities”.
He said: “When I’ve come across politicians, I realise we’ve assumed a level of basic knowledge that simply isn’t there.”
Mr Sands said: “You can’t be too blunt. Politicians think we have straw behind our ears and don’t treat us with enough respect.”
Members of NFUS council – a body made up of representatives from each of the union’s 73 branches – will select the two successful candidates at their annual meeting next month.