Opinion: Farmer networking is important, even if via Zoom

After a prolonged time at home, I find myself watching my words with friends and family as, while I truly appreciate and understand why some are finding the current lockdown difficult, I am enjoying this time of reflection and not wishing the time away.

The weather in the west of Scotland has allowed us to cut our silage almost two weeks early, and with significant yields. The fencing maintenance is also progressing well and my latest hobby, a homemade pizza oven, is ready to be put to good use at the weekend.

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It wasn’t until I was 21, when I joined the Scottish Association of Young Farmers’ Clubs, that I really appreciated how much my passion for the agricultural sector could grow, or the vast array of networks and experiences I could enjoy as a result of stepping away from home.

As I reflect now, I realise how important those networks are to not only keep me updated with the latest agricultural news and policies, but also for building relationships that can influence the way the industry delivers sustainable, traceable and quality assurance.

The importance of our assurance standards cannot be underestimated. Even though many farmers may become frustrated by the paperwork and inspections, it is reassuring to know that everyone is held accountable for their responsibility to the environment and animal welfare.

This month has seen a day spent doing paperwork for our milk buyer, Arla, for the quarterly online self-assessment that is a requirement of our contract and, for the first time, included a climate check.

Once completed, this will give us a benchmark for measuring our success on another standard which is already at the forefront of our practices.

The effect agriculture has on the environment is something we must accept. But unlike transport and energy, we have the opportunity, if we do it right, to also be a tool for these industries to meet their targets of net-zero emissions, as well as our own.

We should not shy away from talking about these developments and, while we are not able to attend meetings and events to discuss what is happening within our farming circles, our key governing bodies are still listening.

Taking on the role as Dumfries and Galloway NFU Scotland (NFUS) chairman just a few months before the pandemic left me worried about how I would support my local area and ensure that local concerns are raised.

However, a recent Zoom call with local members of the Scottish parliament (MSPs) resulted in one of the best-attended meetings for the area, and provided a strong insight into what is happening to support rural communities, as well as an opportunity for members to raise their concerns, including rural broadband.

NFUS has adapted, so the board now meets weekly in the evening, allowing us to be responsive to current news and consultations.

And the recent announcement that the Oxford Farming Conference will be delivered virtually in January 2021 demonstrates how a leading industry event can still deliver a strong programme.

There is no doubt in my mind that, when it is safe for events to resume, I will be one of the first to jump in the car and take some time away from the farm. But I also strongly believe we are in a new era of networking, and “zooming” around might just become the norm.

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