While it might have been a good week to steer clear of any mention of Brexit – there, sadly, seems no escaping the ongoing saga of our exit from the EU as it continues to grasp our attention with a hypnotic urgency which lies somewhere between a cliff-hanger episode of our favourite soap opera and a pantomime farce.

But the more you hear, the clearer it becomes just how little we all know about what Brexit, in whatever form it might finally take, will actually deliver for the farming industry. All that currently exists is pure conjecture.

The breadth of this speculation and ignorance was laid bare at farming events over the past week – with interpretations of what some of the more extreme outcomes might mean for our industry being as diverse as the opinions of those giving them.

While Scottish rural secretary, Fergus Ewing, was in London at the start of this week, attempting to convince Defra and the UK Government to take a no-deal Brexit off the table, the Defra farm minister, George Eustice was in Glasgow – giving strong hints that the degree of disruption likely to be inflicted on the farming industry in the event of such a scenario was being overstated.

Speaking at the annual Semex Dairy Conference at the beginning of the week, Eustice declared himself a supporter of Theresa May’s now dead deal, stating that while it wasn’t perfect it was at the time the best option on offer.

But in an interesting train of thought for a committed Brexiteer wanting to take back control of our own destiny, he said that if it did come to the crunch, the real outcome of leaving the EU without a deal would lie in the hands of the rest of the EU: “If they were to behave in a constructive way – and there was goodwill on both sides to manage what would be a difficult situation – then there would be turbulence but it wouldn’t necessarily be a catastrophe,” he argued.

“But if the EU were to act in a rather the reckless way, then, yes, there could be some really severe problems at the borders.”

While admitting that all the government’s projection models had indicated that the lamb sector would be hard hit, he said it was likely to be ‘swings and roundabouts’ for other sectors: “There could be some products which find it harder to get into the UK, thus creating opportunities for UK producers and others where some exports might be frustrated. Overall, we suspect that currency adjustments would mitigate most of the damage for most of the sectors.”

Perhaps of more specific relevance to the arable sector though, just over a week ago – on the very day that the four farming unions were penning a joint letter to all MPs highlighting the dangers to the sector of a no-deal Brexit – one of the country’s leading farm economists was giving a warning that managing to get a soft Brexit deal could also have unsavoury implications for the industry.

Speaking at the annual AHDB/SRUC agronomy conference, the college’s senior rural business consultant, Julian Bell, said that while there was undoubtedly many down sides to a hard Brexit, the weakening of sterling in response to the whole guddle of Brexit had added considerably to what many UK producers were currently receiving for their goods.

The grain market was held up as a case in point, with Bell stating that so far the weakening of sterling had added around £20 a tonne to the price of grain and pointing out that a ‘no-deal’ Brexit could add another £20 – while he warned that a soft Brexit, or no Brexit at all (either of which could see our currency strengthen), could knock 20 quid per tonne back off.

Pointing to the problems with other currencies, he highlighted the struggles of the dollar under Trump’s administration, the slide in the economy in China, and Italian spending and French acts of civil disobedience which were acting to drag down the euro, he reminded the industry that the pound isn’t the only basket case currency out there at the moment.

When pressed, he said that ‘with 101 caveats’ a hard Brexit might actually be good for a number of sectors of the industry, in the short term at least – provided you could ignore the issue of the lack of labour and the logistical nightmare of transporting good out of the country.

To be fair, he did make it plain that that any early gains from further currency devaluations would soon be offset if government decided – as it would almost certainly do – to support the existing cheap food policy by allowing products from Europe and other trading blocks in without paying tariffs.

But he did point out that Scottish farmers had one big trump card in their hand – in the form of the whisky trade. There are two main reasons for this – one is obviously the continuing growth in the malt whisky trade which could see demand for Scottish malting barley rise by 110,000 tonnes in the next five years.

But the other big plus is that due to some historical quirk – or a piece of considerable foresight – Scotch whisky will not face a tariff on exports to the EU as 0% is the current EU tariff and apparently World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules mean that won’t change.

Make no mistake, that is important, as 90% of all Scotch whisky produced is sold outside the UK and almost a third of the total is shipped to the EU. In many other markets, Scotch will also continue to benefit from existing zero tariffs, including the US, Canada, and Mexico, as these are offered to all countries already. Where tariffs are already high, in countries like India, Brexit won’t actually make the situation any worse.

It’s not unrelenting good news, though, as markets could be hit and new administrative requirements are likely to be required on rules of origin for exports to the EU and there will be additional cost and complexity into production, distribution and exporting of the actual product – but compared with what the sheep sector could face...?

So, market on our doorstep looks set to be a pretty safe haven as well as a growing outlet for Scottish grain farmers. It’s also one which we have gained a lot of experience in supplying over the years.

The very specific need for non-glycosidic nitrile producing varieties with low nitrogen levels which are required by the industry, particularly malt whiskies, also means that distillers have to rely heavily on home produced malting barley for supply.

The continued growth in malt production – with 10 new distilleries set to open in 2019 and a further 40 set to be operational by 2021 – has resulted in Scottish malting barley having a £16 a tonne premium over English barley more suited to brewing.

The threat of importing suitable barely from Europe is also likely to fall if trade barriers are in place – and even non-tariff barriers such as more hassle at ports is likely to reduce the attractiveness of supplying our market for growers on the continent.

But just in case you’re in danger of being lulled into a false sense of security that everything’s going to be hunky dory regardless of Brexit, firm markets and better prices are only one side of the equation.

With a good deal of our fertiliser and the bulk of our crop protection products along with a high proportion of our farm machinery and implements all being imported from the continent, they are bound to suffer from the flip side of the sterling devaluation coin and come under huge inflationary pressures, thus adding markedly to our costs.

Also, the ‘just in time’ business models which most of the supply companies are built on nowadays will also come under severe pressure if there is disruption at the ports, spelling possible shortages at one end of the scale or all the expense involved in stockpiling to ensure supplies at the other.

But its all conjecture – and with the script yet to be written – we’ll better not miss the next exciting episode …