If you’ve managed to get along to any of NFU Scotland’s meetings showcasing their proposals for future farm policy, you’ll probably be aware that they’ve put a lot of work into drawing up a plan aimed at sustaining the industry while at the same time simplifying support measures.

Now I’d guess that even the union would have to admit that it takes a bit to get your head around some of their suggestions – and I’ve no intention of trying to outline the whole plan because it would take far more space than I have available.

It was always going to be a difficult – if not downright impossible – job to keep everyone happy, but basing future support on active farming rather than land occupation, as the union has proposed, would certainly get the approval of most in the industry.

But, while the proposals start to look more than a little complicated when you move into the livestock sector, especially for LFA units or for specialist beef producers where additional top-ups have been proposed, but for the arable sector it, at least, looks reasonably straightforward.

Proposing a flat-rate approach based on ‘actively farmed hectares’ which would be triggered in the arable sector by either growing or harvesting a crop or being eligible for environmental measures, the plan proposes that payments would be made under three headings.

The first tranche would be made up of a ‘financial stability’ portion based loosely on what we get now– and while this might form the bulk of the payment during the early stages of transition, the plan would be for it to diminish over a five-year period.

This would be supplemented by a portion which consisted of non-competitive payments for measures which would improve productivity levels and/or the environment – and this part which will presumably play a key role going forward would increase as the stabilising payments were reduced.

Described as ‘LMOs on steroids’, a whole suite of measures have been proposed, but the union made it pretty clear that it was looking for other ideas from the industry to make this as inclusive as possible.

The third leg would consist of a scheme similar to the rural development programme which would focus more on capital payments for larger scale investments in productivity and environmental measures.

The proposals seemed to go down remarkably well with the audience at the meeting I attended. But, while the union presses on with its plans, there are signs of a growing frustration at the lack of any development of a clear plan from the Scottish Government – and at the constant bickering between Westminster and Holyrood which is stifling any progress.

There is also a strong feeling that there is a need to move away from simply tweaking the existing CAP system a good deal faster than ScotGov seems to be planning. It simply has to be said that the industry as a whole wants to move beyond the creation of yet another focus group, task force or advisory panel, and see the sleeves getting rolled up with the intention of getting the job done.

But, defending its own ‘Stability and Simplicity’ consultation, recently, a senior source inside the Scottish Government likened the union’s plan to playing fantasy football – and that this didn’t really compare with tying up the boot laces in preparation for taking to the pitch at Hampden.

So, handed the metaphor on a plate, I found myself wondering just how fantasy league-esque the union’s proposals for the arable sector are – and if the readership of The Scottish Farmer could draw up their own wishlist for the sector, fantastic or otherwise.

For we’ll all have our own ideas about what would help us improve productivity – but we’d have to remember that we’d need to be able to give it an environmental spin to sell it to the general public.

Top of the union’s inventory of things they would like to help the arable sector stood precision farming technologies, including GPS software to aid sowing and the application of fertilisers, and sprays, along with field traffic management to minimise soil compaction and damage.

Now I would guess that while a lot of people have moved down this road and have already adopted guidance and autosteer technologies, with the continual improvements in applications, I can’t help but feel that we’ve only just scratched the surface of what is possible.

With new developments constantly coming onto the market and now promising to be able to do far more than simply steer a tractor in a straight line, encouraging their adoption and training in their use is bound to help the industry improve its performance and keep it at the cutting edge.

Similarly, measures to promote soil health and nutrient management programmes are a bit of a no-brainer, especially when combined with soil testing and a better targeting of inputs.

However, while investment in minimum tillage equipment might tick the right sustainability boxes, having seen some of the comparative establishment trials in Scotland, I’m not sure that it would necessarily increased yields – although it could improve margins by reducing costs.

The fact that glyphosate is currently facing an uncertain future as well might make me a wee bit inclined to keep this one on the reserve bench of our fantasy league in the meantime.

But unless the summer of 2018 is going to become the norm, I’d imagine that incentives to improve field drainage would certainly meet with a good deal of support.

Help with precision harvesting, picking and crop analysis technologies would again appeal to our inner geeks and love of gizmos – and on this front I was hearing of a system which would allow the nitrogen levels of malting barley to be assessed as a field was being harvested, leading to the ability to segregate a crop on this basis and sell it to best effect.

Encouraging the adoption of technologies which would allow the automation of the more mundane operations such as weeding, harvesting, grading and packing of high value crops in the fruit and veg sector would also be a big boon – especially with the likelihood of labour shortages in coming years.

But while encouraging the use of biomass boilers for grain drying operations might look like a good idea on the surface, I would imagine that the widespread bending of rules and outright exploitation of the earlier Renewable Heat Initiative (RHI) scheme – which could be set to challenge the Irish ‘cash for ash’ scandal – might make government bodies a bit wary of becoming involved in new schemes, however ‘sustainable’ they might be.

So what else should we see added to this fantasy league wishlist?

I was surprised that liming grants didn’t get a mention – because that would tick a lot of boxes, including more efficient use of fertilisers, better soil structure and improved yields.

Maybe we should let our imaginations run a bit further, though. How about autosteer tractors capable of automatically hitching machinery up to the three-point linkage or trailer hitch to avoid wasting time in dark mornings?

Self-repairing punctures to save downtime during the hectic spells – and perhaps this could be linked to automatic sensing and adjustment of tyre pressures between field and road to minimise soil compaction, while saving them wearing out on the tarmac?

On a field scale, should we be looking towards some sort of micro-pore system which would facilitate drainage during the wet spells but which, when reversed, could act as an irrigation unit when soil moistures are stressed? This could even be linked with some sort of adaptation of the under-floor heating systems which are increasingly common in new houses, combined, perhaps, with heat pump systems which use little energy.

Sensors which would identify and then use either lasers or small explosive charges to remove boulders – ‘driller-killer’ rocks – while we were sowing would not only save time, but would also be good fun.

But before I slip too far into the realms of fantasy, could it be that by listing specific productivity-enhancing measures for support we will actually be limiting ourselves? With the pace of change in artificial intelligence, our ability to gather and interpret big data and advances in the internet of things outpacing our imagination – even an annual updating of measures would leave us behind the curve.

So, what we actually need is a support system which is not only specifically tailored to conditions in Scotland but which also keeps pace with scientific and technological change – and which will be politically acceptable not only to the general public, but also to both the UK and Scottish Governments.

But maybe that’s just a fantasy too far …?