ALL FOUR of the UK's farming unions have spoken as one ahead of the European elections on May 23, calling for a policy environment that will allow these islands' farmers, crofters and growers to thrive.

A joint document, ‘UK farmers navigating change in Europe: An agenda for the future’, has been published highlighting six critical policy areas where action is needed to help deliver a profitable, productive and progressive farming sector – Brexit, trade and standards, climate change, environment, healthy plants and animals, and science and innovation.

Launching the document, the presidents of NFU Scotland, NFU, NFU Cymru and the Ulster Farmers Union said: “However long UK MEPs are in post, it is important they understand and engage with UK farmers. Our industry provides the quality ingredients for our safe, traceable and affordable supply of food and underpins the UK food and drink sector, worth £122 billion.

“Whatever the outcome of Brexit we need a policy environment that allows farming businesses to continue to deliver benefits for the public such as high quality, affordable food and protection for our wildlife and countryside. These ambitions are not only hugely relevant for the UK but also across the EU and they start with ensuring that developments on Brexit prioritise the needs of farm businesses and the long-term prosperity of the agri-food sector," said the presidents.

“We must maintain our positive relationship with our European neighbours and work in partnership with them to develop an enabling regulatory regime that allows our sector to thrive.”

With regard to Brexit, the unions have stressed again that a 'no deal' Brexit must be avoided, as UK politicians 'engage positively' with their EU colleagues to limit the negative impacts of Brexit on both UK and EU farmers.

On trade and standards – which is a central plank of the UK's industry's concern about Brexit, given the aggressive export stance being taken by the USA's farmers, unrestrained as they are by EU bans on GMOs and hormone growth promoters – the unions have called for safeguards on the high production standards of UK agriculture to avoid them being undermined by imports which 'do not meet the same high specifications'.

Addressing climate change, the unions attempted to blaze a different trail from the burgeoning 'go vegan to save the planet' message currently popular on social media, and highlighted lesser policy moves that could have a bigger positive effect by being more palatable to the majority of the UK population. These could be as simple as helping farmers reduce emissions by boosting farm competitiveness and profitability, and incentivising investment in farmscale renewable energy technology – but it also requires political recognition of farming's 'unique capacity' to capture carbon in its grasslands, shelter belts and soil.

In a similar vein, the farm unions called on UK politicians to support environmental legislation with 'a clear evidence-base': "Targets aimed at improving air, soil and water quality and for biodiversity must be achievable, measurable and affordable in order to allow farmers to continue producing food," said the unions. "Targeted environmental measures are more effective than a one-size-fits-all approach."

For in-depth news and views on Scottish agriculture, see this Friday’s issue of The Scottish Farmer or visit