Scottish farming turned on style and smiles on the opening day of the Royal Highland Show, but if the findings of a new survey are accurate, the annual spectacle has become an elaborate façade for an industry in crisis.
As perfect cattle were paraded around packed show rings, NFU Scotland (NFUS) revealed falling prices meant the beef sector was “screaming blue murder”.
The union also released the results of a survey which show how ongoing uncertainty around Brexit and a lack of clarity on policy and funding is severely eroding farmers’ confidence.
Meanwhile, at an industry breakfast, Quality Meat Scotland bemoaned the demonisation of the meat industry by vegans and NFUS president Andrew McCornick later attacked what he said were unsubstantiated claims of livestock farming’s damaging role as the villains in the climate change debate.
Precisely three years on from the EU referendum, the NFUS survey paints a bleak picture of the inertia afflicting Scottish agriculture, with responses from almost 700 members indicating 74% have not undertaken any business planning around Brexit.
Mr McCornick said the process had left his members in “a hole that wasn’t of their own making” with one in three having little or no confidence about business longevity.
The survey indicates after Brexit, members anticipate increased cost in inputs (77%); difficulty with exports (51%); difficulty with importing inputs (38%); putting off new investments (38%) and expansion (30%); difficulty in agreeing future contracts (20%); and difficulty in recruiting and/or retaining staff (22%).
“That must set alarm bells ringing at both Westminster and Holyrood,” said Mr McCornick.
“We need direction on policy and a commitment to future funding. Scottish Government and Westminster must wake up to the fact that people are making business decisions in a vacuum.
“Farmers and crofters are naturally optimistic and resilient and believe in a long-term future, but the results of this survey clearly illustrate that both parliaments must deliver their part of the deal if confidence levels are to recover.”
His comments clearly rattled the Scottish Government which conceded the survey results were “shocking”, but insisted it was unfair of the union to blame governments for farmers’ lack of planning.
A spokesman said: “Brexit is clearly having a massive impact on livelihoods but farmers need to grasp the nettle and take steps for their own businesses.
“NFUS is a membership organisation but what’s the union doing to offer advice to its members? Other organisations such as the fishing industry have gone out and offered suggestions.
“What’s NFUS equivalent of that?”