Fit for the future – the challenge of delivering more sustainable farming systems

Today I gave a keynote speech at the SEPA/SRUC yearly conference which brings together land managers, researchers and policy makers to discuss the future of farming in Scotland.

You can read my full speech here. In my opening remarks I commented on what has been a hugely difficult time for our farming communities.

There was last year’s horrendous summer weather, turmoil of markets abroad and the ongoing crisis in the dairy industry. And to top it all – the chaos of the Single Farm Payments system – behind schedule, badly designed and horrifically expensive.

I also provided my thoughts on how we can move toward more sustainable farming systems – something which is of huge importance to our rural communities and the wider Scottish economy.

There are number of things that we need to do but one of the key issues I highlighted during my speech is the need to use science and research to help make better and more informed use of our land for social and economic benefit.  We need to address the challenge of climate change, by reducing emissions in the farming sector and by thinking about the contribution of farming, forestry and land use to delivering this.

To achieve this we must build linkages across research and academic institutions, policy practitioners, economic development and business advisers.  But crucially we need to involve farmers themselves and the communities that they support. I think that’s sometimes understated – we have to make the connections real.

I also highlighted the importance of investing in our rural communities. By this I mean investment in our rural businesses, good quality housing and education and jobs that people pay enough for people to have a decent quality of life and where young people don’t automatically need to move away to find decent work.

We have a stronger more powerful parliament now than when I first became an MSP in 1999 and more powers are on the way. We can achieve the change necessary to make the farming sector more sustainable and to make our rural communities stronger and more resilient.