FARMING is an issue close to my heart and is an area which deserves far more attention than it gets.

Call it agriculture, only so many people are interested. Call it food security, call it land management, call it environmental protections, and all of a sudden you start to see that, actually, it affects all of us.

So it was a pleasure to meet with representatives from Scotland’s farming sector yesterday. The National Farmers Union of Scotland (NFUS) does a power of work advocating for the sector’s interests across these islands so it was good to see familiar faces.

The common challenge facing farmers across these islands is Brexit. The Windsor Framework has at least delivered on smoothing out the Northern Ireland Protocol; it is though, a solution to a problem which should never have existed in the first place.

Even then, issues remain as both the NFUS and the Ulster Farmers Union whom I also met were keen to stress.

Although the ban on exporting Scottish seed potatoes to Northern Ireland has been lifted, livestock movements between both places remains in place.

Traditionally, many dozens of pedigree cattle and sheep born in Northern Ireland were often sold particularly at places such as United Auctions in my own constituency of Stirling.

READ MORE: Fear for Scots farmers as Australia ramps up beef production for UK

Post-Brexit though, the added bureaucracy and regulations have meant that such trade has fallen off a cliff.

If livestock is not sold within 15 days at an approved Animal and Plant Health Agency site, it cannot be brought back into the EU for 6 months. Naturally, this makes the cost of doing business untenable.

Beyond livestock themselves, the lack of a veterinary sanitary and phytosanitary agreement (SPS) between the EU and the UK creates additional checks on goods between the island of Great Britain and EU and Northern Ireland.

Such checks are required since there the UK and EU are no longer aligned or the regulatory standards for plants, animals, veterinary medicines and so forth. An SPS agreement would remove these barriers and thereby giving Scottish farmers access to the EU’s single market once again.

Instead, the UK remains stuck in the mud over what to do; instead of helping our farming community it has sold them out with trade deals such as the Australia and New Zealand agreements which have recently come into force.

Scottish food products are high-quality and amongst the best in the world. However, how can you expect them to compete with large-scale imports after the UK once again sacrificed farming interests for a Brexit PR win?

All this Brexit bureaucracy and undermining of our food sector goes a long way towards explaining the difficulties facing Scottish farmers and the increase in food prices that we’re all suffering from.

READ MORE: How bioregions can help feed Scotland through the climate crisis

Food inflation remains stubbornly high, with the latest figures from the British Retail Consortium putting it at 15.4%, only a small drop from April’s record 15.7%. Meanwhile, the Office for National Statistics notes that this year has seen food price inflation at the highest rate in 45 years.

Of course, there are mitigating circumstances such as the war in Ukraine and the impact of the Covid pandemic. However, only the UK has chosen to leave the EU and the benefits it provided.

Before Brexit, farmers could attract seasonal workers from across the EU to plant and pick their crops.

Now, complex visa processes and the fall in the pound mean that for many it is no longer profitable to come here for work. Under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, farmers received multi-annual payments over a seven-year framework.

In England, Defra have limited to a single annual payment. And whereas Scottish produce could be sold in Paris, Milan or Warsaw with minimum fuss, now it requires masses of paperwork and an army of lawyers, accountants and vets to do so. And all these issues are before we the UK starts its own import checks.

I will always stand up for Scotland’s farmers and it is clear that Scotland’s best future is back in the EU. Unlike the Brexiteers, we know what independence back in the EU will look like having been a member for nearly 50 years.

Working with our European friends across the continent as the newest member of single market, we can help ensure that Scotland’s farmers always get the best deal for the products.