Farmers and crofters can learn more about Quality Meat Scotland’s changes to its standards at upcoming village hall meetings

COLUMN: From the Croft by Russell Smith

Is spring coming now?

The in-bye begins to turn green, though the ground on the hill is still in sepia tones of brown; curlews and lapwings are back.

There are buds on the daffodils and the trees; cockerels are “active”; muirburn smoke is in the air: and lambing is fast approaching.

So we try to cram everything else in before the long days in the fields and barns begin.

Russell Smith.

The Scottish Crofting Federation (SCF) has held an online session with Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) to review the changes to the standards which will come into force in April.

The major change for crofters is that an animal health plan will be required (you should already have one) and this will need to be discussed and approved by your veterinarian during a visit to your operation.

Talking about your plans with a vet should lead to improvements and new ideas that are worth trying, but the visit comes with a bill.

If you have cattle, you probably have the vet come every year anyway, so you’re covered, but for those of us with a few sheep, that might just be a new cost.

High standards of animal welfare are integral to the marketing of our beef and lamb and we must be able to demonstrate this to the consumer – the world is like that.

So for those of us selling over 100 lambs each year the cost of QMS membership and a vet visit will be around £2 per lamb which is fine with me if the prices remain good.

But you have to decide if it’s worth it if you only have a few lambs to sell each fall.

Quality Meat Scotland does a good job of marketing our products, but sometimes you have to choose where to spend your money.

There will be village hall meetings after lambing time, Covid permitting, if you want to know more about QMS changes.

There have been no major announcements regarding the new support scheme recently.

However, I hope the work continues behind the scenes with proper attention to supporting small units in the more remote areas and not just focusing on large farms to the east and south.

The new system will have to balance food production, biodiversity and net zero/carbon reduction. And that balance point will be different for a small farm in North West Sutherland compared to a large arable farm in East Lothian.

Food safety may have been put on the agenda as a result of the war in Ukraine, although most grain production in Scotland is for animal feed or the whiskey industry.

There should be a consultation this summer on the proposals and we’ll have to get used to carbon audits and phrases like ‘enhanced conditionality’, where you get a lump sum payment for following a minimum set of standards and then increased rates if you are operating at a higher level (with the aim of encouraging companies to continue to improve).

The SCF sits on the body that reviews draft policies.

We need to ensure that policies are croft-proof and that common grazing lands receive the attention their size and contribution to biodiversity and carbon sequestration warrant.

Russell Smith is a crofter at Bonar Bridge and director of the Scottish Crofting Federation.

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