On the Bressay ferry on Monday at teatime, on the way to a meeting of the marts board, I encountered an assessor.
For those of a non-crofting disposition, an assessor has responsibilities for assessing crofting issues. They are, in effect, a vital part of the crofting jigsaw which allows the weight of legislation, red tape and bureaucracy to operate. In the middle, there is a crofter who seeks to make best use of a piece of land for cattle and sheep production.
We discussed the price of prime lambs being sold through the Laxfirth slaughterhouse. They have been making more than £60 a head, considerably more than a buyer offered for the lambs in the back end of last year.
All to the good, you might observe. A crofter getting a real market return for a quality product to be sold locally therefore cutting down on food miles, transport costs and the rest.
But in order to make the local meat market genuinely local, and to develop export markets, more Shetland crofters need an outlet for prime lamb in Shetland. That’s what a real future for Shetland agriculture must have.
Yes, many store lambs will continue to be sent south to be finished in Aberdeenshire and further afield. That, I suspect, will always be a part of the agricultural business of the isles. But we have to build a facility that can allow the industry to flourish. Yes, to get round state aid rules, make it available to more than one business. If that can help with ridiculous rules, so be it. But above all, end the procrastination and dither.
This is a project that needs to happen, and happen quickly as otherwise a number of crofters will simply say: “What is the point?” That would help no-one.
If there are fewer active crofters, then there is less livestock production – fewer cattle and sheep. So fewer for the buyers, whether private, the marts here or in Aberdeen, to buy. Such a downward spiral helps no-one.
In passing – eight complaints received by email, letter or phone this week about the exorbitant cost of flying. So there will be plenty to discuss when I meet Scott Grier, Loganair’s boss, the week after next.
Tavish Scott MSP