Economics, ethics and environment –  farming’s 3 ‘E’s

While much of the discussion on future farm policy in Scotland has revolved around reducing the carbon intensity of farming practices, the industry needs to meet the “three Es” of sustainable production.

While much of the discussion on future farm policy in Scotland has revolved around reducing the carbon intensity of farming practices, the industry needs to meet the “three Es” of sustainable production.

Speaking at yesterday’s launch of the annual “Cattle and Sheep Enterprise Costings” report, Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) director of economics, Stuart Ashworth, said that he made no apology for the first “e”:

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“Economic sustainability has to be the most important of these – as without an economic base, there will be no businesses operating to do the good work which will be required of them.

“The second important “e” is environmental sustainability – and while much of the debate has been about measures to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, this should also be broadened to include carbon capture – as well as other crucial issues for a healthy and productive planet such as biodiversity and even means ot controlling and reducing waste.”

Ashworth said that the third “e” concerned ethics - an area which related not only to employment practices and ethical business behaviour but also extended to animal welfare and wellbeing:

“And collectively the three ‘e’s can take us forward in presenting the industry to best effect.”

However Ashworth later admitted that the economic aspect was likely to be challenged in the coming months as the full effects of Brexit began to kick in – deal or no deal.

He said that even if a good deal which avoided tariff imposition could be pulled together from what appeared to be increasingly fraught negotiations between the UK Government and the EU, changes to export requirements in terms of certification and port and border checks were likely to impact trade at least in the short term:

“It’s certainly difficult to see a situation where prices are not put under some sort of pressure in the first quarter of 2021,” he said.

“While most businesses involved in exporting meat know that they will require export health certificates and will have to give prior notification of haulage movements, it remains unknown if there will be sufficient vets and competent people available to provide the required certification nor do we know just how long the checks at border controls are likely to actually take.

“And throw in on top of all this the move to a new computer system designed to handle the process and simplify the paperwork, most in the industry will be aware of the Government’s early success rates with new IT systems…”

The publication itself, which covered 2019, showed that the beef sector continued to struggle economically, due mainly to the challenge of low prices which prevailed throughout most of the year, however sheep producers had fared better over the course of that year, with prices remaining firmer.

Stressing that the economics in all sectors also highlighted the continued need for support within the sector to maintain the crucial requirement of economic viability, he pointed out that the best returns were still made by those who focused on attaining the highest levels of technical performance.