Groceries watchdog must have the power to give farmers a better deal

It's not often that you see cows being walked through a supermarket, or farmers bulk buying their own products to them give them away outside the store. But then, these are hugely difficult times for the dairy industry.

The country's milk producers have been forced into these and other drastic measures to publicise the current dire state of their sector. They are routinely receiving less money for their output than it costs them to produce it. This is, of course, completely unsustainable - which is why no less than 19 Scottish dairy farmers have gone out of business this year.

The simple fact is the supply chain is failing. And it's not only the dairy sector which is suffering. Beef farmers sometimes don't know the payment terms they'll receive from their local abattoirs. Producers can be asked to subsidise supermarket price promotions. And everywhere, the big retailers are trying to improve their own profits by putting prices under pressure. Our farming communities have become pawns in someone else's game.

There is meant to be a mechanism to deal with this problem. Two years ago, the UK government established the post of Groceries Code Adjudicator in an attempt to regulate some of the worst practices and bring fairness to the supply chain. It was a sensible and overdue move. The problem is that the adjudicator's remit does not go nearly far enough.

One of the main issues is that the code only extends to retailers with a turnover bigger than £1 billion annually and only deals with their direct suppliers. It doesn't apply to those farmers selling through intermediaries.

Another problem is that at present the adjudicator can only act if a complaint has been received. She does not have the power to initiate her own investigations. And she can also only look at direct supply contracts, not the whole of the supply chain.

These limitations need to be removed, giving her office the power to look at code compliance much more widely. And it should be able to report on the balance of pricing throughout the whole supply chain.

Organisations such as the NFU Scotland and The Tenant Farmers' Association are at the forefront of the campaign to bring these much-needed changes. I'm also very keen to see these blatantly unfair practices clamped down on.

Earlier this year, the Prime Minister agreed it was time to look again at extending the adjudicator's remit. But the government has not always moved quickly on giving her office the teeth she needs to provide farmers with the protection they need and deserve.

When Parliament goes back after the recess, I shall be tabling a parliamentary question to the UK Government asking what progress has been made and when we can expect to see these extra powers put in place.

Our food and drink sector is critical to the Scottish economy. Farming communities provide vital produce, sustain jobs, support rural areas and guard and protect our unique and beautiful landscapes.

They deserve a better deal and fairer pricing, and, as the SNP's rural affairs Westminster spokesperson and MP for a constituency where farming is critical, I intend to do everything I can to ensure they get it.