JANUARY

The Scottish Farmer: Joyce Campbell was one of several Scottish farming women who promoted the vital role that the fairer sex have long played in the industry

THE YEAR kicked off with calls for radical action to improve the delivery of Scottish farmers’ CAP support, after 2016 proved a year of financial frustration for farmers and crofters up and down the country. Computer problems had left many payments running late or incomplete, and industry leaders warned that these shortfalls had taken the rural economy to the brink of collapse.

The New Year Honours list saw a new farming knighthood, with Glenrath Farms founder, John Campbell, becoming a Sir – one of only two Scots to pick up the accolade, the other being tennis champ Andy Murray. Sir John said: “I am surprised, delighted and completely honoured. Not only am I delighted to receive this title, it has also been wonderful to make my wife a lady.”

First Milk started the new year with confirmation that it’s ‘A’ milk price increase for January would be 2p per litre, the dairy co-op’s seventh milk price rise in a row, reflecting both the improvement in market returns and performance after a major shake-up turned the troubled co-op around.

Scottish Association of Meat Wholesalers president, Allan Jess, announced its view that Brexit would, unsurprisingly, be top of the meat trade agenda for 2017. He pointed out that gaining access to the opportunities on offer would depend on politicians and regulators delivering favourable conditions for the industry to prosper…

Defra secretary of state, Andrea Leadsom, promised that cutting back the regulations facing farmers would be a key government priority for the agricultural sector as Britain left the European Union. Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference, Ms Leadsom specifically mentioned that her plan included ending the ‘three-crop-rule’ – a greening measure designed to promote biodiversity on larger farms. She said: “Now, as we prepare to leave the EU, I will be looking at scrapping the rules that hold us back, and focusing instead on what works best for the UK.”

As candidates ramped up their efforts in NFU Scotland’s leadership elections, the union’s hustings meetings took place, with  Gary Mitchell, Martin Kennedy, Rob Livesey, Allan Bowie, Andrew McCornick and Tom French all travelling the length and breadth of the country, explaining why they thought they were the best men for the jobs being contested.

Controversial Crofting Commission convener, Colin Kennedy, announced that he would stand again in the next round of crofting elections. Having survived resignation calls during the stramash over the administration of common grazings on the Isle of Lewis, Mr Kennedy announced that he wanted re-elected as he believed the job he started in 2012 was not complete.

It was announced that Scotland’s Avian Influenza Prevention Zone would remain in place until at least the end of February. Having been in place since the start of December, the ruling meant poultry farms had to continue to keep their birds indoors, or take practical steps to keep them separated from wild birds.

Meanwhile, the National Sheep Association stressed that it did not support the UK walking away from the European single market. The association said that an immediate move away from the single market at the point of departure from the EU could be disastrous, with a devastating impact on the country’s agricultural sustainability, environmental protection and rural communities and infrastructure.

There was good news for Muller producers, with the company following its 2.5p per litre rise from the start of the month, with the announcement that a further 1.25p per litre rise would apply from February 1.
ScotMoves – the new system for recording the movement of cattle between ‘linked’ farm holdings – geographically separate farms operated under the same business – found itself under early attack, as the Scottish Conservative agriculture spokesman Peter Chapman questioned the logic of its 48-hour time limit.

Rural businesses in the Highlands and Islands were being deprived of funding that could help put the local economy on a more solid footing – this was the topic of a letter signed by NFUS Highland regional chairman, Martin Birse; Orkney and Shetland chairman Paul Ross; Argyll and the Islands chairman John Dickson and Sandy Murray, who chairs the union’s Crofting, Highlands and the Islands committee, sent to Highlands and Islands chairman, Professor Lorne Crear. The group believed that the area’s lack of access to the Rural Leadership Programme was hugely detrimental and disadvantaging potential rural leaders, compared to those in other areas of the country.

It was announced that, after 11 years, Uel Morton was to step down as chief executive of QMS. Mr Morton, 59, decided to hand the reigns over in the summer, following the recruitment process to find his successor. QMS chairman Jim McLaren said; “QMS is very much indebted to Uel for his hard work and attention of the past 11 years.”

Glasgow’s University of Strathclyde was announced as a partner in the four year Internet of Food and Farm project, co-funded to the tune of €30 million by the EU through Horizon 2020. The project aims to encourage farmers to take up ‘Internet of Things’ technologies – the interconnection, via the internet, of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data – offering real-time stock and crop monitoring, better decision making and improved management.

FEBRUARY

The Scottish Farmer: Louise Allan snuggling into Kilbride Farm Gregor which sold for 10,000gns at the Stirling Bull Sales

Scotland’s largest livestock auction company, United Auctions, rang in major changes, as it was bought out by four of its own management team. The deal saw recently-installed chief executive George Purves, alongside John Roberts, Christopher Sharp and Donald Young, buy the company for an undisclosed sum.

The deal involved the entire issued share capital of the business and included all auction markets in the group, as well as the substantial property holding at the Stirling Agricultural Centre.
ScotGov released figures that showed that Scotland’s Total Income from Farming was estimated to have increased by £96million in 2016, up to £749million, after two years of decline. The figures showed that income fell by 16% in 2015 compared to the previous year, but initial estimates for 2016 showed an increase of 15%.

UK farm minister George Eustice confirmed that Westminster’s post-Brexit plans could include extra support for farmers using free-range and pasture-based grazing systems. Speaking during a House of Commons debate on the future of farm animal welfare, Mr Eustice said that the government believed leaving the EU offered an opportunity to improve welfare standards in areas such as slaughter, farm support systems and labelling.

Dairy UK also came under attack from farmers leaders after insisting that, despite the last few years of disastrous milk prices, there was nothing wrong with the current balance of power in the milk market. Responding to the government’s consultation on the possible new powers for the Grocery Code Adjudicator, Dairy UK had rejected any suggestion that it’s remit should be extended to cover relations between dairy farmers and milk purchasers.

Over reliance on farm supports and being ‘presumptuous’ about what they can expect outwith the single market could cause Scottish farmers and crofters serious problems post-Brexit, was the warning from Scotland Food and Drink chief executive James Withers speaking at the SAOS conference at Dunblane.

There was relief from Scottish free-range egg producers as it was announced that they will be allowed to let their birds outside at the end of the month, provided they adhered to strict biosecurity rules. The Avian Influenza Prevention Zone would remain in place until April, but the requirements of the zone would be amended after February 28.

Weights and speed limits on agricultural tractors and trailers travelling on public roads were once again under scrutiny. The National Association of Agricultural Contractors voiced its frustration at the Department for Transports decision not to proceed with the promised ‘Phase 2’ roll-out of increases to the combination weight limits of road-going vehicles.

A single minimum level of pay for agricultural workers was agreed by the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board. The new rate of £7.50 was for all agricultural workers, irrespective of age and duties, and is equal to the UK Government’s national living wage.

Only a quarter of eligible Scottish farmers had joined the much-trumpeted Beef Efficiency Scheme, according to the most up to date figures. Letters of invitation were originally sent out to 8000 producers that could have taken up the scheme, but Scottish Government figures suggest that only 2000 farmers signed up. This equates to approximately 176,000 reference animals which, although not including the 2017 Young Farmers and new entrants who started the scheme this year, accounted again for roughly a third of the calves registered in 2016.

Professor Eleanor Riley was appointed as the new director of Edinburgh University’s Roslin Institute.Taking over from Professor David Hume, Professor Riley would take up her role later in the year, leaving her role as Professor of Infectious Disease Immunology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

A row over who is responsible for fencing at the side of railway tracks rumbled on, in the wake of a cow compensation case. Network Rail came under fire after Plockton crofter Iain MacLennan lost one of his cows when it wandered through poorly maintained fencing, and was hit by a train. Kate Forbes MSP called for Network Rail to both pay compensation for the animal, and to sort the area of fencing in question.

NFUS proposed that spare Rural Development funding from the EU should be redirected towards Scotland’s new generation of farmers and crofters.

Cash allocated to the Environmental Co-operation Action Fund was suspended to allow for the redesign of its delivery scheme to meet EU audit requirements, with a view to a future re-launch. Ministers considered how funding could be allocated, prompting NFUS to suggest that rural economy CabSec Fergus Ewing use it to bolster the new entrants components of the SRDP 2014-2020 – the Young Farmers and New Entrants Start Up Grants Scheme and the New Entrants Capital Scheme.

The Scottish Farmer’s very own Ken Fletcher celebrated a milestone, as he hit his 40-year-anniversary of working for the paper. Stirling Bull sales hosted his celebrations, with a presentation in the sale ring by publisher Darren Bruce, and managing director of the Herald and Evening Times Newsquest Group, Graham Morrison.

Sheep worrying figures hit a seven-year-high, prompting NFUS to write to the public urging them to keep their dogs on leads near farmland. Figures showed 179 instances of dog worrying where animals were hurt or killed, up by 46 incidents on the previous year.

Muller bit the bullet and offered its 1900 dairy farmers the opportunity to set up a dairy producer organisation to strengthen their bargaining position. The decision whether to do so would be taken by a newly elected Milk Group Farmer Forum, which would represent the company’s 1100 members on supermarkets contracts and the 900 non-aligned producers on its books. 

MARCH

The Scottish Farmer: Winning team at West Area Talent Spot were Carluke YFC, with 'Absolutely Brickin' It'

Stress in the farming community was a hot topic this month, as it was announced that a survey by NHS Grampian had recorded it as a growing problem throughout the industry. The survey showed that 46% of respondents in the 56-74 year old age bracket said that they would like more information and support with stress, anxiety and depression.

Brexit was back at the forefront of Andrea Leadsom’s mind, as she met with Scotland’s top rural politicians who were hoping to hear what budget Holyrood will have to spend on post-Brexit farm support, and what powers it will have to shape future support schemes for Scottish farming outside the CAP. Emerging from the summit, Rural Economy CabSec Fergus Ewing said he had asked questions on the continuation of agricultural subsidies and the transfer of agri-policy powers from Brussels, but received no ‘satisfactory’ answers.

Turmoil hit the Aberdeen-Angus Cattle Society with the sudden resignation of its chief executive, Johnny Mackey. His departure came hot on the heals of the resignation of the society’s communication manager, Chrissie Long, who was set to leave the society in May, after working her resignation. Mr Mackey’s departure surprised breed president Alex Sanger – but not former breed president, Colin Davidson, who claimed that the society was in ‘meltdown’ and questioned the need for a replacement chief executive.

An amnesty to allow tenant farmers to declare undocumented farm improvements and potentially have landlords recognise them as eligible for compensation was announced as beginning in June. Both landlords and tenants were at pains to talk up the prospect of a fair and friendly process, with Scottish Land and Estates holding out a significant olive branch by making it clear that improvements to farmhouses would be included.

Ayrshire sheep farmer Davie Morrison found his flock the victim of a serious dog attack, that saw two domestic dogs kill 15 of his pedigree sheep, and injure a further 17 so badly that they had to be euthanised by a vet. Davie, of Dalwyne at Girvan, discovered devastating scenes in his fields as the dogs attacked his in-lamb Blackface ewes. The devastation would be further felt, he explained, as the deaths killed out the possible progeny of these ewes, and decimated carefully established bloodlines in his flock. 

Brian Hosie retired from his role as head of SAC Consulting Veterinary Services, ending a 40-year-career in veterinary surveillance and investigation. A presentation was held at Oatridge to mark Brian’s achievements and to allow friends and colleagues the opportunity to wish him well. SRUC principle and chief executive and SAC Consulting managing direction Wayne Powell wished Brian well for the future. 

Scotland needed an all-new Crofting Bill to clear up the muddle of legislation currently governing the crofting counties – and it should be written, scrutinised and introduced in the lifetime of the current Holyrood parliament. That was the message from Holyrood’s cross party Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee chairman, Ed Mountain, as he called for a concerted effort from all parties to make legislation that will stand the test of time.

The future of dairying on Bute was called into question, as nine dairy farmers resigned from First Milk to try and find a new buyer. The breakaway group held discussions with both Lancashire-based Yew Tree Dairy, and Stranraer-based Lactalis, but nothing was agreed, and First Milk’s door still seemed to be open. The resignations were prompted by the continual erosion of the First Milk prices in 2015 and 2016, which saw Bute producers down to 13p per litre at one point.

Europe’s chemical watchdogs gave key herbicide glyphosate a clean bill of health. To the delight of both farmers and the crop protection industry, the European Chemicals Agency concluded that the scientific evidence on glyphosate ‘did not meet the criteria to classify glyphosate as carcinogenic, as a mutagen or as toxic for reproduction.’

Former convenor of the Crofting Commission, Colin Kennedy called for a recount of the votes cast at the crofter elections in Stornoway, in which he lost his seat by just two votes. Mr Kennedy claimed the election was riddled with ‘skullduggery’: “That is the word I would use” he told The Scottish Farmer. “I was concerned that the outcome may have been rigged, hence the reason why myself and my agent Hugh McLean attended the count.”

Primrose Beaton took up the role of lead cattle auctioneer at Lawrie and Symington, Lanark. Mrs Beaton moved into the role after 30 years of service at United Auctions, Stirling. She told The Scottish Farmer: “I was sad to leave United Auctions, especially as I had been there for 30 years. It was all I had ever known, but I felt the time was right to make a new start.”

There were more apologies from ScotGov over support payment delays – which was the last thing Scottish farmers needed, as the bills continued to mount up.

Tenant farmers caught up in the legal repercussions of the Salvesen/Riddell court case scored a partial victory in their own court case against the Scottish Government, with the Court of Session ruling that they should receive ‘some’ compensation for the loss of their farms. Lord Clark ruled in favour of the principle that the current ScotGov administration had some responsibility to make amends for the impact of the defective legislation passed by the previous administration.

APRIL

The Scottish Farmer: Lambing time in Scotland....

PLANS were unveiled for improvements to the infrastructure at Ingliston, home of the Royal Highland Agricultural Society of Scotland, and the Royal Highland Show. Describing it as ‘future-proofing’ the site for years to come, directors of the society hosted a site visit highlighting the improvements that were already underway – and suggested that, come show time, most of the £2.5m worth of work would go unnoticed by the public.

Scotland’s growing population of sea eagles and the threat they pose to the sheep sector were highlighted as the industry entered a new lambing season. Awkward questions were asked of the Scottish Government and Scottish National Heritage who, in the opinion of sea eagle management groups in the Highlands and Islands, had failed to deliver an acceptable management plan for the reintroduction of the species. SNH and RSPB Scotland were also queried over why they failed to monitor the impact of the sea eagle population on native avian and mammal species in the release areas, amidst local reports that the supposedly pescatarian predators were eating anything they could catch.

A new breed of sheep hit the fields of Scotland, as Jim Kennedy, of Lyonston, Maybole, imported the first Arbex sheep from the Black Forest region of Germany.

Plans were revealed for a 2018 ‘parachute’ payment that looked likely to the last gasp of Scotland’s Less Favoured Area Support Scheme. EU rules wouldn’t permit LFASS to continue unchanged after this year, as the last CAP reform agreement required member states to replace such schemes with systems based on the new ‘Area Facing Natural Constraint’ definitions.

Farmers and crofters waiting for their 2016 LFASS payments were also given a glimmer of hope as it was announced that they would be offered a Scottish Government funded loan. Fergus Ewing confirmed that this would provide around £50m support to businesses operating in Scotland’s most marginalised areas. The loan aimed to provide financial security for farmers and crofters until the EU payments were made later in the year.

Powers over the revenue and management of the Crown Estate resources in Scotland were transferred to the Scottish Government. Scottish ministers took control over thousands of hectares of rural land, approximately half of Scotland’s foreshore and leasing the seabed rights to renewable energy. 

As Easter weekend approached, Scottish supermarkets and their failure to stock Scottish lamb was once again thrust into the spotlight. The majority of supermarkets were continuing to stock lamb sourced mostly from Australia and New Zealand, regardless of the fact that home-produced Scottish lamb was available, and it was traditionally the favoured meat for an Easter Sunday roast.

Collessie Jennifer, a Clydesdale mare, was announced as being the 2017 face of the Royal Highland Show. From esteemed Clydesdale breeder Ronnie Black, from Newton of Collessie Farm, Fife, Jennifer was the fourth generation of best of breed at the RHS with her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother all having worn the prestigious rosette. Jennifer was to feature on billboards, buses, social media and television, in the run up to this year’s event.

Farmers for Action called on UK farmers to use the imminent General Election to select politicians that will put the nation’s food security at the top of their agenda. Prime Minister Theresa May had so far failed to mention farming or farm incomes, noted the radical rural organisation, and had not ruled out post-Brexit trade deals where farming would be made the ‘sacrificial lamb’.

With the EU’s politicians and civil servants once again preparing to consider the fate of glyphosate, NFUS called on its members to make it clear to the public that the chemical was one they could not do without. The union wanted to see glyphosate – which reaches  the market marked as ‘RoundUp’ – re-authorised for a full 15 years, with continuing approval for use pre-harvest.

Sheep farmers, mainly in the north of the country, were counting the cost of their lambing time losses following an unseasonal Arctic blast which brought snow and hailstones sweeping across the area. The official Met Office statement from spokesman Grahame Madge said simply: “The areas affected include Caithness, West Highlands, and Cairngorm” – but ‘a year’s work gone in one night’ was how farmer David Stewart described the situation.

It was the end of an era at The Scottish Farmer, as Alasdair Fletcher stepped down as editor after 23 years in the top job. Stepping up to the plate to take over was Ken Fletcher, becoming the sixth editor in the paper’s 124-year-history. Further promotions went to news editor Gordon Davidson, who had online editor added to his job description, and to Patsy Hunter, whose business role was extended to cover technical topics.

Tenant farmers’ ‘rights to buy’ had to be scrapped if Scotland’s farming industry was to thrive and survive, a leading land agent claimed. Malcolm Taylor, a rural land management partner for Bell Ingram, said that the chronic shortage of farms to let was being exacerbated by legislation that punished landlords and squeezed available land.

MAY

The Scottish Farmer: Weather wise, the spring and early summer turned out not too bad

Farm landlords were advised to carefully consider the impact of reviewing farm rents before the implications of Brexit become clearer. Scotland’s tenant farming commissioner Bob McIntosh stated that the consideration of the ‘prevailing economic conditions’ in agriculture had to be an important component of rent review discussions. Mr McIntosh explained: “Rent reviews initiated this year will fix rents until 2021 and that period will overlap with the UK’s planned withdrawal from the EU. Given the uncertainty over the impact of Brexit, there is a risk that rents fixed now may turn out to be significantly out of kilter with the market place within two years.”

As farmgate milk prices once again came under pressure, milk buyers were urged to provide stability to Scottish dairy farmers. According to NFU Scotland, all the market signals – commodity prices, international production levels and dairy auction results – were still positive, so milk buyers owed milk suppliers a strong sign that any price cuts will only be temporary.

Ravens were causing strife again, as a farm in Caithness came under attack, with the farmer describing the birds as killing lambs “for fun, and not for food”. Selena Swanson, who runs 40 pure Cheviot and 300 commercial ewes to Farmside, near Thurso with her husband John, told The SF that they had been under attack from ravens for the last five years, with the situation getting worse every year.

Arable farmers in parts of the country were looking skyward and praying for rain in order to help their crops survive weeks of drought. While there was no immediate panic, with no sustained rainfall forecast, farmers in the east of the country down to the Borders were starting to worry. Colin MacGregor, who farms at Coldstream Mains, said: “From January to April this year, we had 184mm of rain, and we have had a lot drier years that this over the past decade. In 2015 we had 130mm; 2012, 160mm; 2011, 162mm and in 2009, 147mm.”

Concern was growing among beef farmers in the North-east over the difficulty in sourcing the distillery by-products which were a staple of their feed regime. Alastair Nairn, who farms Clashnoir, in the Braes of Lenlivit, told The SF: “We really have reached crisis point and are extremely worried how we are going to feed our cattle in the future, with the growth of anaerobic digesters and biomass plants consuming what is essentially a valuable source of protein feed for livestock.”

RSPB Scotland declared itself ‘appalled and extremely frustrated’ that court proceedings against a former gamekeeper accused of shooting a hen harrier were dropped. After a lengthy series of pre-trial hearings, video evidence provided by the conservation charity was ruled inadmissible as prosecution evidence.

Ayr Show found its overall champion in a Jersey cow, Bluegrass Vindications Harp. Owned by a consortium of three Irish herds, she was brought out by Michael Yates, from Castle Douglas.

Meat fraud could only be combated if more ‘whistle-blowers’ came forward to report it. That was the message from Food Standards Scotland chief executive, Geoff Ogle, as he spoke at the food safety agency’s annual press briefing. Although he was careful to stress that no ‘detailed’ investigations were currently being carried out, he did confirm that the Scottish Food Crimes Incidents Unit was busy.  

One of Northern Ireland’s leading pedigree breeders was in the midst of a dispute with the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs regarding the early testing of TB in his prize herd and the resulting culling of positive reactors.

Farmers were advised to increase the security of their machinery following a sharp rise in insurance claims for theft. According to the latest claims data from NFU Mutual, the cost of farm thefts doubled in March compared to the same month in 2016, rising to over £800,000.

Following a hearing of the Scottish Parliament’s Environment. Climate Change and Land Reform Committee, organisations representing the game shooting community expressed disappointment that the committee had voted narrowly in favour of a course of action which includedexamining the possibility of a licencing scheme for game shooting in Scotland. A joint statement from Scottish Land and Estates, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, BASC Scotland, the Scottish Association for Country Sports, the Scottish Countryside Alliance, and the Scottish Moorland Group read: “It is widely acknowledged across the political spectrum that only a tiny minority of people engage in wildlife crime and further regulation will impact on communities where game shooting is of vital social, economic and environmental importance.”

Poultry classes at the Royal Highland Show were cancelled, with the show manager David Jackson maintaining that and risk of health issues, however slight, must be taken seriously. This came after outbreaks of avian influenza were recorded in England last year, and after an Avian Influenza Prevention Zone was declared by the Scottish Government in December, requiring all poultry and captive birds to be kept indoors.

JUNE 

The Scottish Farmer: Preparing for the Royal Highland Show

Progression and planning for the future would be key to the success of the Scottish Land Commission. That was the message from Dr Sally Reynolds, one of the six commissioners selected for the new body; created to take forward the Scottish Government’s land reform agenda. Dr Reynolds, who is also a development officer for the Carloway Estate Trust and co-ordinator of the Lewis and Harris Greylag goose management scheme, was speaking at Scottish Land and Estates annual conference. She said: “Our long-term objective is to be beneficial to all, and we want to see more diverse and disaggregated ownership, and more of an emphasis on both rural and urban areas, so that nobody is missing out.”

Scotland achieved the lowest risk level status available for Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy. Notification of Scotland and Northern Ireland’s risk classification upgrade to ‘negligible risk’ status – the safest level available anywhere in the world – was confirmed by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) in Paris.

One of Scotland’s biggest landowners, Buccleuch Estates, got into advanced discussions with a number of its limited partnership agreement tenant farmers with a view to either them purchasing the farms they rent, or converting to alternative long-term arrangements.

The Buccleuch announcement followed concerns raised by the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association over reports that some of Scotland’s largest estates have been taking steps to bring limited partnership tenancies to an end, allegedly with a view to replacing farmers with trees.

Hamish Trench was appointed as the permanent chief executive of the Scottish Land Commission. He joined SLC from the Cairngorms National Park Authority and will be responsible for the strategic leadership and operational management of the organisation supporting commissioners in fulfilling their functions.

Questions were still being asked over the Beef Efficiency Scheme, after a number of farmers chose to leave the scheme rather than put up with its demands. When first launched, the initiative, which offers financial help in return for the introduction of efficiency measures in suckler herds, had a reported uptake of around 2000 beef producers – but there has since been rumours of producers backtracking and dropping out in their hundreds.

ScotGov’s troubled farm support system was also still presenting ‘significant risks and costs’, according to the newly-published report from Audit Scotland.

The independent body reviewed the progress made in resolving the serious issues that plagued the £178m CAP Futures programme, and acknowledged that, over the last year, significant changes in leadership have been introduced bringing about a renewed effort to stabilise this. Regardless of this, its verdict remained that, to date, the programme has not delivered either value for money for the taxpayer or the expected benefits for farm support applicants.

In the wake of the General Election, which resulted in a hung parliament at Westminster – and a diminished mandate for Prime Minister Theresa May’s approach to the Brexit negotiations – NFU Scotland’s president Andrew McCornick’s immediate reaction was that Scottish farmers had been left in an ‘uncertain place’. One fact that was confirmed was that Scots-born pro-Brexit Tory, Michael Gove, was now the man in charge at Defra, ousting Andrea ‘leave the hills to the butterflies’ Leadsom, and sparking heated debate over whether or not the former education minister’s famous intellect – and political ambition – can crack the problem of farm support outwith the CAP.

Dairy co-op First Milk appointed Mark Robertson as its new operations direction, replacing Kenny Bain, who has decided to step down from the role. Mr Robertson had more than 30 years experience in the dairy industry and held senior executive positions with Milk Link and Glanbia. Latterly, he was vice-president for Arla Foods, responsible for 12 cheddar and mozzarella manufacturing sites across the UK and Denmark.

Concerns were raised over the viability of livestock haulage from the Scottish islands, following the disqualification of an Oban-based haulier for falsifying his driving hours. While moving stock for United Auctions, Donald Mackay used another driver’s digital card to allow himself extra hours on the road, but was caught out at a roadside inspection.

Problems with the rules around livestock haulage also became the focus of a crisis meeting at the Road Haulier Associations headquarters in Livingston.

Jim McLaren, chairman of QMS, was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s birthday honours list. Chairman since 2011, and previously president of NFUS from 2007 to 2011, he said he was ‘surprised and delighted’ to have received the award, adding: “It has been a great privilege for me to have worked in, and for, the Scottish agricultural industry for the various roles I have carried out to date.”

Meanwhile, Rod MacKenzie was appointed as the new convenor of the Crofting Commission by rural secretary, Fergus Ewing. A life-long crofter, Mr MacKenzie was one of six commissioners recently appointed to the board by crofters from across the Highlands and Islands. The board also includes two commissioners recently appointed by ministers and one reappointed position set to serve the crofting community in the coming years. 

It was a sad – but happy – occasion, as The Scottish Farmer’s outgoing editor, Alasdair Fletcher was (finally) presented with his official leaving gift, a specially commissioned shepherd’s crook, at the Royal Highland Show. After 23 years in the top job Alasdair will be missed by readers and his staff alike, but everyone at The SF hopes he is enjoying his well-earned retirement – chasing after his grandchildren, Clydesdale horses, and Blackie sheep, instead of us in the office!

Fergus Ewing helped Lawrie and Symington celebrate its 150-year anniversary. L and S chairman, Brian Dickie, and managing director, Hamish McCall welcomed Mr Ewing to the company’s RHS stand, where he was presented with a specially-commissioned 150-anniversary tie to mark the occasion. 

The gunge tank was out again at the RHS and our new SF editor Ken Fletcher was one of its victims. As one of many industry figures to sportingly sit in the infamous chair, Ken was very much ‘in the pink’ as he was covered in slime to raise funds for the SAYFC’s ‘are ewe okay?’ rural mental health campaign. An excellent cause, and an excellent excuse to see your boss looking a bit daft!

JULY

The Scottish Farmer: Tara Adams at New Deer Show

It was announced that the applications for the next round of AECS funding would open in January, 2018, and farmers, crofters and landowners were urged to look at how this might benefit them. Environment secretary Roseanna Cunningham noted that the scheme had committed £99m to 1431 businesses since 2015.

A group of 26 dairy farmers in Aberdeenshire pledged their support to the newly-formed North-east Milk Producers Association, which held its first meeting. The formation of the association followed a study into the future of dairying in the region, jointly funded by Opportunity North East and Aberdeenshire Council, and prompted by the closure of Muller-Wiseman’s Aberdeenshire plant in 2016.

Researchers identified key genetic markers in barley which could help growers meet malting specifications and lead to more efficient whisky production. The AHDB-funded research, carried out by the James Hutton Institute and SRUC, aimed to identify genetic markers for diastatic power, which is the ability of a malt to break down starches into simpler, fermentable sugars, during the mashing process.
UK laws on dangerous animals should prevent the proposed release of wild lynx into the UK, the National Sheep Association claimed. A formal application to begin reintroduction of the species was expected ‘imminently’ from rewilding enthusiasts Lynx UK Trust, but in an attempt to head that off, the NSA highlighted the Eurasian Lynx are classified as “dangerous wild animals” under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976, and releasing them outwith local authority license would therefore be a criminal offence.

Scotland’s harvest got underway, with some growers out with their combines slightly earlier than usual – although the majority were happy that they were in a position to gear up to going out in the coming weeks. Asking farmers from the north of Scotland to the south, the mood was upbeat and – although the outcome was as weather dependant as ever – there was every hope of a successful year.

However, the country’s spring barley area remained at a multi-year low, virtually unchanged from 2016. Last year, the area under the crucial distilling industry crop fell to a 10-year-low, partly in response to a large carryover supplies from previous years and a temporary decline in malting barley demand in some areas during the 2015/16 season. With little area recovery reported this year, final output levels would depend on yields. 

Key figures in the UK’s food industry called for a substantial ‘transitional period’ in the country’s move to outside the EU, warning that a chaotic ‘cliff edge’ Brexit could cause serious damage to UK food and farming businesses. In a joint letter to the Government, signatories from 26 UK food and drink supply chain bodies laid out their key priorities for the ongoing negotiations with the EU, stressing the need to protect the UK’s food security.

Leaders from across Scotland’s farming and rural sector were urged to engage with the National Council of Rural Advisors brought together by the Scottish Government to consider the future of agricultural policy in Scotland. However, there was a lukewarm reception from some of the industry’s elected representatives, who made it clear that their willingness to engage with the council did not necessarily mean that they accepted it as the key route to achieving their policy ambitions. 

It was reported that consumers in Britain are eating two thirds less vegetables than recommended by health experts. According to government guidance on a healthy diet, 20% of our shopping should be made up of veg, but in reality, the average UK shopper only fill 7.2% of their basket with the green stuff – and Scottish consumers are even worse, with their veg shopping percentage only sitting at 6.6%!

AUGUST

The Scottish Farmer: It really wasn't ideal harvest weather


Migrant labour plays an ‘integral’ role in many Scottish farming businesses – so the UK’s post-Brexit immigration system must include an effective seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme or “crops will go unharvested”. This was the key message to emerge from a meeting between NFUS and UK government minister Robin Walker, from the Department for Exiting the EU and Dr Ian Duncan, of the Scotland Office.

The Royal Welsh Show supreme sheep champion was disqualified. It was found that the winning ewe lamb was not registered to the Texel Sheep Society, due to it being shown under a name not affiliated to the society, and was therefore in breach of eligibility rules at the show. A statement issued by the RWS livestock department said: “We confirm that there has been a change of winner in the sheep champion of champions award.”

A confirmed case of bovine tuberculosis (TB) in Cumbria caused concern for livestock farmers north of the Border. The case, discovered in a badger, raised fears over the impact any spread could have an impact of Scotland’s bovine TB-free status. The Animal and Plant Health Agency discovered the disease in badgers for the first time in 30 years while investigating 16 cases in cattle in east Cumbria.

A fire at a pig abattoir in Brechin was treated by police as ‘unexplained’. Quality Pork, on Montrose Road just outside of the town had been new-refurbished before the blaze and was said to be worth £10m. The alarm was raised about the fire at 4:06am on Saturday, August 5, and it was initially thought that the pig production line was left unaffected and the main damage was in staff canteens, offices and a storage shed.

One of Scotland’s biggest dairy regions, Dumfries and Galloway, began the process of setting up a group aimed at encouraging all women who contribute and play key roles in the dairy industry to come together and share their wisdom, produce ideas, inspire and support each other. The network, supported by NFUS, was launched at the Union’s stand at the Stewartry Show.

Lynx UK Trust hit out at the National Sheep Association and what they described as their ‘reality defying’ claims that six lynx will threaten the UK’s sheep industry and food security. This came on the back of the trust’s application  for a trial reintroduction of Eurasian lynx in Kielder Forest region of England and Scotland. The trust outlined a sheep welfare programme, aimed at providing farmers with grants aimed at boosting flock health and reducing sheep predation.

Britain’s two biggest supermarkets came under fire as they were accused of backsliding on their commitment to sourcing locally produced lamb. As the sheep sector entered peak lamb season, and farmers started to look toward market returns that might provide some cheer amid the political uncertainty, a shelf watch study by NFUS revealed that 11% of the lamb on supermarket shelves is imported – and that almost all of this imported meat was found on Tesco and Asda shelves.

Following the TB outbreak in Cumbria, there were positive reactor test results for the dreaded disease on the Isle of Skye. The farmed affected didn’t want to speak directly to the press, but offered a statement via NFUS, saying: “This is an extremely worrying and very difficult time for me. The cattle that tested positive on the farm have been slaughtered, and further laboratory tests are now underway to see if they have TB. Waiting for those results is very stressful, but I want to get to the bottom of this, get my herd restrictions lifted and get my TB-free status back as quickly as possible and I will work with authorities to do that.”
Voluntary work by Scotland’s farming community underpins the many agricultural shows that happen the length and breadth of the country, boosting tourism and bringing money into rural areas – but some authorities have been less appreciative than others. This was the point highlighted but NFUS vice-president Martin Kennedy as he spoke at his local Aberfeldy Show. He said: “’Feldy show is always extremely grateful to their sponsors but there is no question that the biggest sponsors are those who give up their time to officiate and run the event.”

Not a moment too soon, ScotGov moved in its greening rules and offered several ‘very positive and hard-worn changes’ that farmers might yet have time to take account of their autumn planting plans. However, while welcoming the move, NFUS noted that the ‘significant’ list of changes quickly needed clarified so that farmers could identify the right greening measures for their farms. Announcing the new guidance for CAP 2018, Fergus Ewing explained that it had been endorsed by Professor Russel Griggs’ expert group, and included changes introduced by the European Commission’s own simplification agenda.

Keith Brooke announced that he was to step down as chairman of the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland. A RHASS director for 30 years, Keith was appointed chairman in July 2016 and oversaw the £5million infrastructure investment in the showground and presided over a record-breaking Royal Highland Show. Citing personal reasons for the move, Keith will remain a director of the show.

SEPTEMBER

The Scottish Farmer: Sheep aboard the new Kerrera ferry

Refusal by the Scottish Government to make changes to the Scottish Upland Sheep Support Scheme drew criticism from both NFUS and the National Sheep Association. For the second year in a row, despite intensive lobbying, there were to be no changes to the rules of the scheme, which was put in place by ScotGov, to assist active hill farmers and crofters through a payment coupled to the number of ewe hoggs they keep as breeding replacements for their flock. It has a budget of £6m. NFUS recommended ‘budget neutral’ changes to the scheme’s application periods, retention periods and targeting payments. Vice-president Martin Kennedy commented: “As a union, we had unanimous backing from our membership to pursue, for a second consecutive year, changes to the SUSSS to target this valuable pot of funding more effectively.”

Outstanding bank debts on Scottish farms had increased 5% over recent years, according to the latest figures released by Scotland’s chief statistician. A survey of the main banks and other lending institutions revealed that outstanding loans to Scottish farms rose by £113 million in the year to May 31, 2017. Total outstanding loans to the agricultural sector amounted to £2.32bn. Accounting for inflation, this was an increase of 3% since May, 2016.

Vets raised the alarm over the growing number of animals being slaughtered without pre-stunning in UK abattoirs – but the Scottish meat sector insisted that this was only a problem south of the border. According to analysis of the latest UK Food Standards Agency figures by the British Veterinary Association, the number of livestock going through the non-stun route into the food chain had risen sharply – a trend that the vets said ‘unnecessarily compromises’ the welfare of animals at the time of their death.

NFUS president Andrew McCornick took a trip to Orkney, and was given an insight into just how reliant the farming community was on the sometimes unpredictable island transport system. Mr McCornick saw both sides of the livestock movement coin on the trip; witnessing both the slick operation of Northlink Ferries, who transport livestock from Orkney to the mainland, and experiencing the less predictable inter-island ferries, which are used to move stock between mainland Orkney and the surrounding islands.

Scottish farmers using ‘brisket tags’ on their cattle were doing so illegally and faced penalties if such tags were found during official inspections. But a plea for the Scottish Government to grant a moratorium to those farmers who had already inserted brisket tags – to avoid the welfare issues arising from removing them – fell on deaf ears. A ScotGov spokesperson said: “Brisket/dewlap tags are understood to have been supplied by a single UK supplier and have been advertised for sale in a number of agricultural publications – however, using brisket/dewlap tags is an illegal form of animal identification.” 

Lynx reared their heads again, as it was announced that every sheep in the UK would be insured against attack by lynx if the campaign to have the predatory species reintroduced here was successful. In yet another publicity blitz, the Lynx UK Trust announced an agreement with a specialist division of Lloyds of London to insure the entire UK sheep population against lynx attacks throughout the period of any trial reintroduction. It was said that the cover would also extend to attacks on pets and humans – while stressing that the insurance was only possible because the risk of such attacks was judged to be very low.

Jaagsiekte was also back in the limelight, as sheep farmers were urged to ‘be more honest’ about the levels of the disease in their flocks, if Scotland was to have any chance of tackling the problem. This was the clear message from around the sheep industry as breeding sale season once again got into full swing. “Basically, as far as I can see, the sheep world has a major problem to deal with when it comes to jaagsiekte,” explained concerned Ayrshire sheep breeder, Jim Kennedy. “From what I hear, it is rife in many breeds, but I feel that the biggest problem we have is that those with infection in their flocks aren’t being upfront enough about it.”

Following outbreaks of avian flu at the end of last year and the beginning of this, the government’s chief vet announced that the UK had met international requirements to declare itself once again free from the disease – but added that all poultry keepers must remain vigilant, due to a ‘real and constant threat’ that it will return.

Scotland’s almost non-existent summer started to hit home. The prolonged spell of wet weather from June through to September was continuing to cause countrywide delays in key tasks like harvesting, silage-making, baling, planting and spreading. Farmers from every Scottish region outlined a growing list of problems being created by the persistent rainfall, at NFU Scotland’s board meeting in Edinburgh, with the most pressing being the substantial amount of harvest still to be completed, and ground conditions that were making ploughing and planting crops difficult, if not impossible. 

Fergus Ewing was in the sheep sector’s good books, following his decision to extend the deadline for applying to the Scottish Upland Sheep Support Scheme until November 30. The move, made in recognition of the difficult time sheep farmers were having following the recent atrocious weather, was hailed by both NFUS and NSA Scotland.

After two years in the job, Highland Cattle Society secretary, Sian Sharp, announced that she was to step down. Mrs Sharp, who cited personal reasons for her departure will not be leaving the organisation until February 28, 2018 – but she used the announcement to issue a call to arms to the Highland breed, which she said needed to seize the opportunities offered by Brexit, capitalise where other breeds could not, and move into new areas that have shown interest in the breeds attributes.

OCTOBER

The Scottish Farmer: HRH The Princess Royal visited Lanark Mart to mark Lawrie and Symington's 150th anniversary

UK export negotiators were accused of dropping the ball by failing to include key ‘protected’ Scottish food products in the latest international trade deals. Quality Meat Scotland sounded the alarm after the UK government omitted Scotch Beef PGI and Scotch Lamb PGI – alongside a host of other Protected Geographic Indication products, like Arbroath smokies, Stornoway black pudding, Orkney cheddar and Ayrshire Dunlop cheese – from the final text of the EU-Canada Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreements, and other trade deals with Japan and Mexico. The omission was particularly baffling because other EU member states with PGI products – iconic local brands like Parma ham, Feta cheese and Nurnberger bratwurst – made sure that they were included in the trade deals, while UK trade secretary, Liam Fox, apparently dodged calls from opposition parties to openly debate his negotiating priorities.

Lanarkshire farmer, Jimmy Warnock, was announced as the new chairman of the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland. Replacing Keith Brooke, who stepped down in August, Jimmy was appointed chairman designate in July this year, and is currently in his third term as a director of the RHASS. He has been chairman of the RHASS PR and education committee and chairman of RHET national for eight years. He also serves on his local committee as a farmer host and classroom speaker.

Jaagsiekte stayed in the spotlight, being described as a ‘disease iceberg’ threatening the Scottish sheep sector. Caused by a virus with infects cells in the lung, leading to tumours, Jaagsiekte has been recognised by generations of flock managers as a cause of sheep losses – but surveys at sheep abattoirs and of fallen stock had demonstrated that the reach and severity of OPA is increasing, and according to Livestock Health Scotland, the disease is now being diagnosed in all regions of Scotland and is probably impacting on all breeds.   

Hexham Auction Mart was hit with a £12,000 bill after for flouting livestock movement rules. The business was fined £10,000 and ordered to pay £2065 in costs when representatives pleaded guilty to 16 offences when they appeared before Newcastle Magistrates Court. Northumberland Trading Standards animal health inspectors found the company had not only breached livestock standstill rules when moving cattle in to and out of fields and lairage sheds it owned, but had failed to record cattle movements and provided false information to the British Cattle Movement Service.

Genetic modification of plants will be essential to avert future food shortages – but crop scientists will need to build a much better understanding of fundamental plant processes first. An international group of agri-scientists reviewed how biotechnology had shaped the efficiency of crop production over the past 35 years, and concluded that, while GM has been of great benefit, it was now being limited by the boundaries of crop science.

Farmers in swamped Nitrate Vulnerable Zones in Scotland were given a lifeline by the Scottish Government to allow them to empty over-flowing slurry tanks. The deadline for emptying tanks expired, meaning that if they were to spread slurry in an NVZ designated area, they could face large cross compliance penalties, but the government opted to change the general deadline to the end of November, and said it would look sympathetically at cases of NVZ where horrendous weather has stopped many farmers from spreading slurry in time. The decision to grant leniency would be made on a case by case basis as to whether derogation will be granted to those who missed the deadline.

Bankfoot JAC was announced as this years winners of the SAYFC bale art competition. The Perthshire clubs’ creation was made using straw bales, to create the shape of a teddy bear band. Picked as the winner by TV personality, Lorraine Kelly, the artwork was situated in a field adjacent to the A9, near Bankfoot. SAYFC chairman, Suzie Dunn, said: “Well done to Bankfoot and all of the clubs who made it to the final six.”

Livestock auctioneers Lawrie and Symington welcomed HRH The Princess Royal to Lanark Market, as the company marked its 150th year anniversary in auctioneering. The Princess was shown round the company – just prior to the Blackface sale kicking off – by L and S chairman, Brian Dickie, and managing director, Hamish McCall.

Farmers were advised to be alert for the signs of bluetongue virus, following concerns over a batch of cattle imported here from France. Attention focused on a lorryload of Montbeliarde dairy cattle that entered the UK earlier in the month destined for four farms in England, in Preston and Kendal, and in Scotland, in Dumfries and Stirling. Presence of the virus was found in some of those animals through its post import testing regime, and movement restrictions were immediately placed on all premises that received cattle from the consignment. 

Glyphosate once again fell foul of the European Parliament, where MEPs voted in favour of a resolution to have it phased out over a five-year-period, while the agro-chemical industry was to be given extra funding to work on alternatives. Some Scots MEPs insisted that this five-year ‘last chance saloon’ for the manufacturers of Roundup was a better outcome than the immediate ban that had been sought by some factions of the parliament, but NFUS found it hard to see the outcome as anything more than disappointing.

NOVEMBER

The Scottish Farmer: Cheviot gimmers coming in for the pre-tupping dose at Cassington

November started with Brexit negotiators pursuing an abrupt 2019 end to UK farming’s involvement in the Common Agricultural Policy. While Prime Minister Theresa May had sought to calm business jitters with her plan for a two-year ‘transition period’ from the official April 2019 Brexit date, offering status quo stability into 2021, a throwaway comment by Scotland Office Under Secretary of State Lord Ian Duncan has revealed that Westminster wants UK farming out of Europe on April 1, 2019. Speaking at the NFUS autumn conference, Lord Duncan stated, in answer to a question from the floor that, ‘beyond 2019, it will fall to ScotGov to decide how farm subsidies can be paid.’

Vets welcomed new targets for reducing antibiotic use in eight livestock sectors – beef, dairy, eggs, fish, gamebirds, pigs, poultry, meat and sheep. Responding to the new government endorsed targets, BVA senior vice president Gudrun Ravetz said: “Antimicrobial resistance is a top concern for vets in the UK, with almost half listing is as the most pressing animal health and welfare issue we face. These evidence-based targets, developed with vital industry and veterinary input, offer significant and timely benchmarks for each livestock sector in their ongoing efforts to further reduce, refine or replace antibiotics.”

As a matter of urgency, the UK dairy industry needed to know where it sood in relation to Brexit – and not least the 2500 UK milk producers who are members of the European milk co-op, Arla. This call came from the managing director of Arla Foods UK, Tomas Pietrangeli, addressing the IDF dairy summit in Belfast. “The farmers that own Arla and the dairy industry as a whole need to know urgently what the government plans look like for the future of food and farming,” said Mr Pietrangeli. “That means the early publication of a new agricultural policy next year. Any delays will be detrimental to our industry due to our long-term planning cycles.”

In the wake of seven sheep being killed by a runaway lynx in Wales, plans to reintroduce lynx into the Scottish Highlands came to light. The horrific sheep loss in the Welsh countryside did not seem to have deterred these plans. The chief scientific advisor for the Lynx UK Trust, Dr Paul O’Donoghue told The SF: “The current release plans will be expanding in the very near future, with a second release area in the Highlands. I’m not at liberty to disclose full details at this stage, but what I will say is that the plans for the second site already have a significant level of landowner support. Lynx UK Trust is currently awaiting a response from Natural England to its application for a license to release Eurasian lynx into Northumberland’s Keilder Forest.”

Tractors of all shapes, sizes and ages took over Lauder and the surrounding area, in aid of a foundation set up to fund research into Motor Neuron Disease, in the wake of famed rugby player, Doddie Weir’s diagnosis with the disease. The machines, which ranged from a wee 1940s grey Fergie to state-of-the-art giants, formed up at the Thistlestane Castle, Lauder, before a spectacular ‘grand parade of tractors’ set off around the area, led off by a newly launched John Deere tractor that had come to Thirlestane straight from the factory in Germany. Crowds lined the streets to see the 178 machines rumbling past.

There is ‘no excuse’ for not eradicating BVD in Scotland, but efforts were being held up by a minority of farmers. That was the strong message given by Sheila Voas, the Scottish Governments chief veterinary officer, at the Moredun seminar, attended by HRH Princess Anne. She explained that persistently infected (PI) cattle remained the root of the problem and it was those that farmers needed to get rid of. Ms Voas said: “PIs are the problem and they are the ones which need to be eradicated. The average cost of BVD to a Scottish beef herd is £5000 and around £16,000 for a Scottish dairy herd, so it makes sense to get rid of this disease.”

The issue of animal welfare was also brought to the forefront of the Brexit debate after the UK Government voted to dismiss a clause recognising animal sentience when the EU withdrawal bill returned to the Commons. Both the Scottish Government and NFUS took issue with the move. A ScotGov spokesman said: “We fully accept the principle of animal sentience, which underlines our current welfare legislation. We may consider formally recognising this in future Scottish legislation, if required.”

Castle Sinniness, near Glenluce, run by the Fleming family, was named as the winner of 2017 AgriScot Scotch Beef Farm of the Year award, run by AgriScot and QMS.  The farm is one of three, extending to a total of 240 hectares, run in partnership by Robert Fleming with his father, John and mother, Racheal, with support from part-time member of staff, Frazer Mitchell. The family run a low-input grass and forage-based system which supports the main herd of 220 Aberdeen-Angus and Angus cross suckler cows and followers.

DECEMBER

The Scottish Farmer: Whatever the time of year, Scottish farmers' work goes on

Plans to establish a new dairy in Aberdeenshire were put on hold until the New Year, amidst doubts over the level of support the venture might attract from both milk producers and processors. This was confirmed by North-east Milk Producers Association chairman, Roy Mitchell, who said that the plan could not proceed without concrete support from a consortium of Scottish-based food manufacturers. On the input side, two of the area’s biggest producers had made it clear that they were not currently planning to supply any new local dairy that might emerge to fill the void left by Muller-Wiseman’s retreat from the North-east.

Tenant farmers and their landlords also got news of a new tenancy format, as the Modern Limited Duration Tenancy came into force from November 30. This new type of tenancy was included in the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016, and replaced the Limited Duration Tenancy option, which had been available since 2003. The new MLDT has a minimum term of 10 years duration, although tenants and landlords looking for a shorter term let will be able to continue using the Short-Limited Duration Tenancy option. Existing LDTs will continue unaffected until their term date.

Farming industry efforts to secure the formal re-authorisation of the herbicide glyphosate paid off this month, with the appeals committee in Brussels approving the product for a further five years. but NFUS – which had been lobbying for a full 15-years reauthorisation of what it described as an ‘essential’ product for Scottish agriculture – was lukewarm in its welcome for the outcome, saying that it had been a “hugely frustrating process, which saw politics rather than scientific evidence” delay the decision. Based on the verdicts of the European Food Safety Authority and the European Chemicals Agency, which had both long ago deemed glyphosate safe, NFUS suggested that the reauthorisation should have proceeded much more quickly, and been for the maximum term. 

A Scottish farmer’s daughter got good news, as Christine Middlemiss was appointed as the UK’s next Chief Veterinary Officer, taking over from Nigel Gibbens, who is stepping down at the end of February following 10 years in the post. Glasgow-trained Ms Middlemiss comes from a farming family in the south of Scotland, with a background in beef cattle and sheep, and worked for a number of years in private practice in Scotland and the north of England, before joining Animal Health – now part of the APHA – in 2008 as a divisional veterinary manager in Scotland.

The country’s new Agricultural Weather Advisory Panel met for the first time, presumably to stand together looking out a window into the December mirk, whilst tutting and shaking their heads. Commenting on the first meeting, Fergus Ewing said: “Having announced the formation of the new agricultural weather advisory panel at AgriScot, I am delighted to confirm that the panel met for the first time earlier today. Drawing on expertise from across our agricultural sector, the panel, when triggered, will act as a taskforce for rapidly sharing information, best practice and encouraging cooperation across industry to help farmers and crofters respond effectively to challenging weather conditions, both in the short term and in building longer term resilience,” said Mr Ewing. 

Professor Julie Fitzpatrick, scientific director of the Moredun Research Institute, voiced her concerns over the yearly budget cuts being imposed by the Scottish Government: “Since I have been at the helm for the past 13 years I have witnessed 12 years of government funding cuts and despite maintaining the staff we have, we haven’t had the funds to bring in new scientists when current staff retire. If it wasn’t for a step up in external income, we wouldn’t have survived,” she told The Scottish Farmer.  

Jonathan Ovens, the farmer joint chairman of Arla’s UK operation, was shown the door. Speculation was rife that Mr Ovens’ removal was part  of a coup, with the suggestion that six of 10 current UKAF board members had a secret meeting plotting to oust him.  

Scotland’s 2017 cereal harvest was estimated to have increased 4% on the 2016 harvest. Scottish farms produced 2.9million tonnes of cereals this year, including 1.8million tonnes of barley and 900,000 tonnes of wheat.  

The dairy industry in Scotland was facing a labour crisis, farmers warned in the run up to Christmas. It was noted that the sector relies heavily on immigration to fill roles on farms and that many farmers found an attitudinal difference between their foreign workers as opposed to their local staff.  

Two young farmers won an NFU Scotland letter-writing competition, earning themselves a seat at the prestigious Oxford Farming Conference, being held in January at Oxford University. The winners were Jen Craig from Lanarkshire, and Ben McClymont from Dumfries.  

A five-year project to help increase the number of golden eagles in Scotland was launched by environment secretary, Roseanna Cuningham. The South of Scotland Golden Eagle Project would recruit four members of staff to work with local communities, landowners and gamekeepers.