The challenges of attracting fresh blood into the farming industry and recruiting new members to the Union were hot topics tackled by NFUS president and vice-president candidates at the first of 10 NFU Scotland hustings meetings.

Around 70 farmers gathered in Perth for an audience with the two candidates for the role of president – current vice-presidents Jim McLaren and Bob Howat – and three vice-president candidates, Nigel Miller, Stewart Wood and Adam Fisken.

With half of Scotland’s farmers non-members of the NFUS, how to recruit was a question posed to both presidential candidates by Kinross-shire farmer, George Lawrie.

Perthshire-based mixed and dairy farmer, Jim McLaren, said initiatives the Union was introducing included a Farming for the Future project, piloted in Orkney. “This involves interfacing with farmers on farms in open days bringing specialists onto farms to try to discuss topics and engage with people,” said Mr McLaren.

Fife and Borders farmer, Bob Howat, agreed there was a need to change the format of branch meetings, making them more social and relevant. Both candidates agreed a return to an area executive structure would be a retrograde step.

“People are busier and busier and you have to make the meetings relevant – having a whole lot of smaller meetings scattered round the country would not pull people in,” Mr Howat said.

The vice-president candidates also tackled questions about recruitment.  NFUS livestock committee chairman and borders hill farmer, Nigel Miller, said the Union can deliver for big combinable crop operators. “The reality is with water quality become more of an issue, NVZs and waste matter rules there is a huge amount of work to be done and I would hope members are getting really good value,” he said.

East Dumbartonshire sheep farmer, Adam Fiskin, said the industry as a whole was guilty of being divided. “I do understand why larger subscribers feel they are subsidising the other sectors and areas and to show how seriously we are taking this we have considered capping subscription levels,” he said.

Vice-president candidate Stewart Wood, chairman of Orkney and Shetland region, said membership in Orkney was 86%, compared with the national figure of 46%.

It would, he argued, be better to have more members nationally at a lower fee, though there was a need to be realistic about the percentage uptake achievable.

The candidates will attend nine further hustings meetings as far afield as Shetland, Orkney and Dumfries and Galloway prior to the elections at the NFUS agm on 23 February.