A bit of a conundrum which had been niggling me for a while, was finally answered the other day.

For, while it seems to be an immutable law that all the policemen, posties and even doctors that you come across these days seem to be getting younger all the time, I was puzzled by the fact that most of the grain merchants which you chance upon seem to be the same age – and moving slowly but relentlessly towards retirement.

Just take a long, hard look at your grain merchant next time he drops in and against what might be your natural inclination, maybe even consider backing this up with a wee bit of sympathy.

For if your experiences are like mine, there is indeed a fair chance that he’s not that far from retirement – and is working out the last few years of his professional life before heading off to his villa in the sun, where he intends to live out his twilight years happily wafting between some light pottering in his bijou vineyard, or olive grove and the obligatory rounds of golf at the local club.

Now, I’ve no doubt that there will be a deal of scoffing going on amongst grain growers, backed up with sarcastic quips that they’ll be forced to wipe a tear away from the corner of their eye at this life of hardship.

For, in common with other professionals working in our industry like auctioneers, vets, accountants and lawyers – to say nothing of advisors and consultants – there’s a tendency to see our grain merchants as a necessary evil, viewed through a jaundiced eye which suggests that however enjoyable their company might be, somehow it’s costing you money.

But just take a step back and think what the poor old sod has been through over the years.

Imagine the effect which spending the thick end of 40 harvests explaining why loads of barley have been rejected at the malting house – even after the samples had seemed perfect – must have on the soul.

And the constant battle to explain why the price of fertiliser seems to go up every year, regardless of drops in grain prices or, indeed, in the cost of gas used to manufacture the products, must also take a heavy toll on the psyche.

But it will always be difficult to drum up much sympathy amongst farmers for this sector which, in common belief, has its margins at both ends guaranteed regardless of price movements.

In fact, some view the trade as the ones taking advantage of the flip side of John F Kennedy’s statement to the effect that farmers are the only industry that buy retail, sell wholesale – and pay the haulage both ways.

But the riddle of the trade's ageing population was answered when I heard one of their number speak at a farmers' meeting recently – and I got the impression that the job might not have been the bed of roses we all imagine.

It was made pretty clear that the trade has changed enormously over the years. I was left with the distinct impression that for many of the individuals involved, it might not have fulfilled all the prospects which a job in the grain trade seemed to offer a few decades ago.

Back in the late 1970s and early '80s the business of buying and selling grain trade was, apparently, widely viewed as a sexy, exciting and dynamic occupation, where starting salaries easily outstripped those of freshly qualified doctors and other professionals.

It might just have been my overactive imagination which immediately conjured up a vision of an agricultural version of the Wolf of Wall street – but if you take a close look into your grain merchant’s eyes, you just might see that despite morphing into a family man and pillar of the local golf club, there still might linger the signs of an earlier devil-may-care life. Back to when foreign conferences, trade fairs and other international junkets went hand in hand with a wheeler-dealer lifestyle.

Back in those great days of Scottish amateur rugby, I’m not sure whether a national cap secured a job as a grain merchant – or being a grain merchant secured the time to devote to the game – but in the '90s and '90s there were a surprising number of Scotland’s greats who could tackle both an English back row and a barley intervention store tender in the same day.

But sadly, as many rugby supporters will be only too well aware, the glory days don’t always last – and so it was with those of the grain merchants.

Widespread mergers, buy-outs and amalgamations of many of the companies involved in this increasingly globalised sector of our industry – along with some collapses – saw consolidation and retrenchment push the grain trade into fewer and fewer hands, while farmer led co-operatives also ate into the trade.

This might not have led to the immediate demise of the jet setting, the fast cars, the foreign trips and all the other trappings of a luxury lifestyle, but what it did seem to do was pretty much close the door to any newcomers into the profession – as those already in the 'club' held onto the shrinking pool of jobs.

As a result there hasn’t really been a lot of new talent coming into this sector in the intervening spell – and gone are the days when a number of reps turned up at harvest time to collect samples and then anxiously bid against each other to purchase a bulk of malting barley.

There has been some recognition in recent years that the lack of new blood needs to be addressed and it’s good to see that a round of fresh-faced newbies are now being trained up and appearing on-farm, complete with the drive and enthusiasm of youth.

Even with new faces now coming on board, though, there’s no avoiding the fact that a whole cohort of grain merchants are getting ready to head off to Palm Beach or their house in Tuscany or the Algarve – and whatever you might think of your local merchants, there will soon be scant few who have the experience of some of the more intricate workings of the trade.

And while our own cynicism might lead us to believe that this experience has often been ranged against us, there will be few who haven’t relied on the know-how and contacts of their merchant to sort out what might otherwise have been a difficult issue to tackle on our own.