Rachael Hamilton is Conservative MSP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire

DEFRA Minister Michael Gove delivered an intelligent and thought provoking speech this week at the Oxford Farming Conference. He spoke of the new opportunities in the food and drink sector that will present themselves following Brexit.

We know that farming requires the patient eye of a long lens to fall into line with a carefully planned farming calendar of crop planting and livestock breeding programs and policy decisions must be judged carefully. Inevitably, there will be pressure on the UK and Scottish Government to design a support scheme that focusses on the environment, rather than food production.

Farmers here in the Scottish Borders already lead the way in animal welfare and environmental standards but as agriculture enters its fourth revolution, science and technology will play a greater role in food production. Indeed robotics may replace labour; data analytics will improve animal welfare and so forth.

Whilst farmers and producers face the biggest revolution in decades, consumers are changing their eating habits, some basing their decisions on welfare, climate change, or health. Gregg’s the bakers last week launched a Vegan Sausage Roll and Veganuary is being promoted as a healthy alternative, particularly to a younger generation. There are undoubtedly benefits of a balanced diet, but is a vegetarian or vegan diet better for the environment than eating meat or taking a flexitarian approach? Do we really understand the full impact of different foods from farm to fork, on climate change and land use?

Food production can destroy or displace natural resources, in order to supply a growing demand or trend. For example, avocado production in Mexico is displacing fragile habitats. Eating a plant-based diet reduces methane emissions but results in more food miles travelled when produce is out of season here in Scotland.

Importing fruit and vegetables that perish quickly produces more food waste. Moreover, there are clearly trade-offs between the increased carbon footprint of flying green beans from Kenya as opposed to supporting developing countries to prosper. Meat production has a similar carbon footprint to rice because it produces large amounts of methane. Food trends also affect sustainability; an increased demand for protein crops may cause an increase in the price to countries for whom proteins are essential. Do consumers consider these factors at the supermarket aisles? Currently, there is no certification to show that certain food is produced with less waste. Labelling needs to be clearer to reflect this and allow consumers to make considered purchasing choices.

In the fog of healthy eating advice, we often overlook what is produced on our doorstep, beautifully fresh foods in season. Purchasing locally, not only do we support our local economy, but the environment too. Michael Gove’s speech has certainly given us food for thought and the shape of farming may change forever driven by consumer choice and our responsibility to a sustainable planet, but one constant remains that the Scottish Borders produces some of the finest food in the whole world. We are very lucky people.