While huge uncertainties remain for UK farmers regarding Brexit and it’s various outcomes, the future for Scottish cereal farmers appears a lot brighter than it has done – at least for this year.

That was the welcome news from Julian Bell, a senior consultant with SAC Consulting, who highlighted the growing demand for wheat for distilling in Scotland and an upswing in the whisky market at an industry conference last week.

Add to that the fact that world grain stocks fell for the first time in five years in 2017, by 13m tonnes; La Nina, which may affect this year’s global harvest, and reduced grain stocks in the UK, and he said demand for this year’s crop could be particularly strong.

“We saw a switch from the use of maize in the distilling market to wheat in Scotland, last year, which is estimated could boost demand by up to an extra 150,000 tonnes,” he told delegates attending a packed Agronomy Scotland conference in Perth, last week.

“We’re also expecting increased demand for malting barley this year, too, when there is an upswing in the whisky market after a four-year decline. The premium for malting barley over feed barley in Scotland last year was up to £44 per tonne in September and the current forward premium for 2018 harvest is also around £40/t,” said Mr Bell.

With last year’s difficult harvest and wet autumn preventing some producers drilling their normal acreage of winter cereals, he added that there is expected to be an increase in spring barley area for harvest 2018.

However, this may not be as high as in the past due to the three-crop rule. “The system puts a limit on the increase in spring barley area,” he pointed out.

Looking further afield, Mr Bell encouraged growers and buyers to develop stronger long term contracts and strengthen supply to the home market.

“Potentially, you have five years of Basic Payments promised but only 15 months of trade with the EU if there is no transition deal, so now is the time strengthen existing contracts and develop new ones,” he said.

However, Mr Bell also highlighted the need for buyers to provide a sustainable price for growers competitive with other crops without subsidies; investment by Scottish maltsters in increased malting capacity and investment in the remaining maize distilleries to enable them to use wheat.