Growers in Scotland have warned that they will be unfairly penalised by plans to introduce a national living wage from April 2016.
According to the Scottish NFU (NFUS), growers may have to pay the national living wage to all staff, not just those over 25, as unlike England, Scotland retained the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board (SAWB). The union is now calling for the abolition of the SAWB.
NFU Scotland Chief Executive Scott Walker said, “Our members are committed to paying fair wages, but that has to be set against the unfairness of having a parallel employment system which only applies to Scottish agriculture. All this will have an impact on how competitive our growers are when it comes to putting fresh produce on the shelves.
“Growers in Scotland compete directly with farm businesses in England as well as the rest of Europe and wages can represent more than 40 per cent of the operating costs of such a business. The living wage will see any profit margin eliminated unless Scottish growers can recover the extra cost they face through the products they sell. If this doesn’t happen, then there will be less Scottish fruit and vegetables produced.”
In a comment aimed at retailers and other buyers he added; “The supply chain needs to recognise that what they pay for farm produce is the biggest determinant of what a business can afford to pay its staff and any sensible sourcing commitment from retailers needs to address this issue.”
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The Scottish Government has said that it will use a revised approach to the approval of genetically modified crops to request a ban in the country.
Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead said, “Scotland is known around the world for our beautiful natural environment – and banning growing genetically modified crops will protect and further enhance our clean, green status. There is no evidence of significant demand for GM products by Scottish consumers and I am concerned that allowing GM crops to be grown in Scotland would damage our clean and green brand, thereby gambling with the future of our £14 billion food and drink sector.”
However, the move has been condemned by farming leaders north of the border, particularly as it is at odds with Westminster’s attitude towards GM crops. Scott Walker, NFU Scotland Chief Executive said: “Other countries are embracing biotechnology where appropriate and we should be open to doing the same here in Scotland.
“Decisions should be taken on the individual merits of each variety, based on science and determined by whether the variety will deliver overall benefit. These crops could have a role in shaping sustainable agriculture at some point and at the same time protecting the environment which we all cherish in Scotland.
It is unclear whether the ban would apply to scientific and experimental research, but Scotland’s research establishments, including the James Hutton Institute and the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health have been at the forefront of researching the technology.
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The new Food Policy Manager for NFU Scotland has identified representation in the supply chain as one of his key roles as he builds relations with retailers, processors and consumers.
The role was created 18 months ago, but previous incumbent Kylie Barclay has moved on to pastures new. The new Food Policy Manager is 23-year-old John Armour, a farmer’s son from Kintyre, who commented, “It is a great privilege to be joining the Union. Growing up on a dairy farm has meant that I’ve always had a direct tie to NFU Scotland and I value the important work done to improve the lives and business opportunities available to Scottish farmers.
“My specific remit of representing our members’ interests in supply chain and food retail discussions is a thrilling prospect and I look forward to grappling with the key issues affecting the supply chain, and to working with everyone at NFUS to effect positive change to benefit the whole of the Scottish agricultural community.”
NFU Scotland Chief Executive Scott Walker commented: “John will continue to build on the success of his predecessor in being an active advocate for the farming industry in the supply chain. Ensuring that the country’s farmer’s voices are heard in a rapidly changing retailer environment is critical. It is important that we press for fair contracts and fair prices in the domestic market and look to maximise export market opportunities.”
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