Opinion: Scottish farming needs a united voice to prosper

We have recently seen a change in leadership at the top of NFU Scotland, as president Andrew McCornick and vice-president Charlie Adam stood down. Both have committed more than two decades to the union, helping ensure the voice of the membership is heard.

It is a commitment that requires significant dedication in both time and energy during a “normal” term.

But as Andrew leaves his post, it is unimaginable to think of the additional hours he and his team have committed as the sector faced some of the biggest changes we have experienced for generations.

See also: Collective thinking can tackle future challenges

About the author

Colin Ferguson
Farmers Weekly Opinion writer

Colin Ferguson is a Farmers Weekly columnist and dairy farmer from the Machars Peninsula in south west Scotland. Along with his parents and brother, he milks 450 cows on two units supplying Arla Foods. Colin is also the NFU Scotland regional chair for Dumfries & Galloway and a Scottish Enterprise rural leader.

T: @sw_farmer

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Like any leadership role, not everyone will agree with some of the decisions made during his term, but strength in leadership is being able to hold a view, regardless of the criticism that is sometimes faced.

It will be down to the incoming representatives to convince the voting membership that they are the people to steer agriculture over the next four years. But I do wonder if the new incumbents are at a disadvantage, without the opportunity of face-to-face meetings.

As we look forward we must, as ever with turbulent waters, continuously review and assess the policies and regulations that govern what we can do within agriculture. I often wonder if these policies truly serve the most important asset of our industry – the people.

On watching one of the pre-election hustings, I found myself reflecting on the mental health challenges facing our sector.

Only last week I read about a young farmer who bravely shared his story after spending a spell in hospital receiving treatment, noting he was too embarrassed to ask for help until it was almost too late.

Missing human connections

Like many, I have felt the strain of not meeting people. Connections made through a screen will never replace this.

The recent Run1000 initiative, driven by Scotland’s Sheena Horner, has demonstrated the desire to step away from our everyday lives and support each other.

She and the team have run miles while raising more than £40,000 for charity and should be praised for stepping up.

But given that many of us are just trying to stay afloat, I am still horrified how quick some in our sector are to judge and criticise others.

Whether this is in opinion columns, on social media, WhatsApp groups or on Zoom calls, we do not know what is really going on beyond those seconds of communication.

I have just been re-elected as the Dumfries and Galloway NFUS chairman, a role that has followed a term as the Next Generation chairman.

In both roles I have been keen to hear, and listen to, all views. There is no right or wrong view and no one should ever be shamed for expressing their ideas for change.

Equally, we should not shame people for standing above the crowd to celebrate their successes. We must embrace them and encourage shared learning. An example of this is the pride and rightful recognition given to the winners of the Farmers Weekly Awards. 

As an industry we should strive for collaborative improvement. Often the loudest advocates for change are guilty of gaslighting organisations or individuals who are unable or slower to follow trends.

In the short term this may help the individual, but it has the risk of turning an industry in on itself when it so needs to have a united voice.

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