Significant support could be moved away from Scotland’s cropping and better grazing land in order to stave off some of the big cuts in support being faced by hill farmers in the Less Favoured Areas (LFA) payments.

That was the provocative message given at a conference last week by well-known legislative specialist and industry commentator, Jeremy Moody.

With a tendency to be as chirpy as the first sparrow at dawn, Mr Moody is a weel-kent face at conferences and meetings around the country – and while he works for the land agents’ organisation, the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers (CAAV) down south, he also acts as an advisor to the Scottish Agricultural Arbiters and Valuers Association (SAAVA).

His reputation for attention to detail and ability to understand even the most complicated legal jargon which is regularly used in drawing up policy is well-deserved – and his ability to follow the twists and turns of any argument through to its logical conclusion is legendary even amongst those most deeply steeped in the arcane corners of agricultural policy and legislation.

As such, he has been widely involved at both commercial and government level in offering advice on CAP reform and has, I’m pretty sure, been called upon to put his tuppence forward on the Brexit situation as well.

If Jeremy has a failing, however, it might be his tendency to give the facts straight and not sugar-coat them in order to calm the often frayed nerves of his attentive audience – be it a group of farmers or a government minister.

“Less Favoured Areas Support Scheme (LFASS) payments are facing a 60% cut for 2020 under EU rules. The Scottish Government wants to protect LFASS but will have to make decisions about how it funds and cuts the subsidy cake. Without new money being made available, the conclusion that money would have to be shifted towards LFA from the Payment Region 1 BPS pot is a logical one to draw,” Moody told the conference in his usual straight-talking style.

However, there was far less candour or certainty expressed over any transfer of funds between different sectors at last week’s NFU Scotland agm when Fergus Ewing was asked if such an approach was on the cards.

While he acknowledged that 'difficult decisions' might need to be taken, Ewing was reluctant to admit that there might have to be a bit of 'robbing Peter to pay Paul' between, say, the lowground and hill sectors.

Diverting attention to the UK Government and the moral burden placed on Michael Gove, whom he said had accepted the scale of the threat facing hill farmers, Ewing said that the UK Treasury should be the first port of call for funding to fill the gap – which will stand at £12m in 2019 and £36m in 2020.

Whether he actually believed this could be achieved or not he certainly claimed that it 'would make things much easier'.

Failing this, of course, the good old convergence money was once again resurrected as a means of plugging the gap – despite the fact that the current review of how the national budget will be shared out post-Brexit doesn’t seem to have to allow the back-dating of payments in its remit.

But, in reality, we all know that getting any additional funding from the UK Government is likely to be a bit of a long shot – so where else can the cash be found?

It looks unlikely that the Scottish Government will be able – or willing – to find the necessary £36m required to offset the LFASS shortfall stuck down the back of the sofa, despite the fact that NFU Scotland was pinning its hopes on under spend in other areas helping to narrow the shortfall.

So, where does this leave us – not only on the LFASS issue, but on the broader allocation of the balance of funding between the different sectors in the post-Brexit world when, being realistic, we’re likely to face a static or declining farm support budget?

For (and this will probably come as no shock to those in the arable sector) public sympathy seems to lie with hill and upland farmers who struggle to keep their businesses together in some of the country’s wildest and most remote areas. There’s also the fact that Brexit has the sheepmeat sector teetering on the brink of an economic Armageddon if we leave without a deal, or with a poor one.

For some time now politicians have been aware of these facts and have used the sympathy for the hill and upland producers as a means of justifying farm support, indicating that not only does it keep these farmers in business but it also maintains the countryside and economic activity in many of the country’s more remote regions.

So, could the arable sector’s lack of cuddly lambs or cute calves see it bear the brunt of the inevitable cuts to support?

Admittedly, it might be a bit more difficult to hold out the poor hand when standing in front of a combine costing hundreds of thousands of pounds, or walking through a multi-million pound grain drying and processing plant, and at the same time farming the sort of land which can grow a fair range of crops.

But the economics of the crop-growing sector have been just as precarious as those of other enterprises in recent years – and arable systems and cost structures have had the support element built into them for so many years that it will be extremely difficult to break that link.

There has also always been a high degree of interdependence across all sectors of the country’s farming world – with the limited arable area managing to provide a considerable proportion of the much wider livestock sectors requirements for feed, fodder and bedding.

So, at a time when it’s more important than ever for the industry to stick together, pitching one sector against another is just asking for trouble.

A different approach – although one which could prove just as unpopular amongst some – to freeing up some cash to balance the budget would be to cap payments by putting an upper limit on what any single business could claim, although this would probably lead to business re-structuring simply to avoid any cuts.

Yet another method which has been advocated is to scrap what we currently have altogether over a short time scale and see which sectors or businesses are willing to jump through a new range of additional hoops to claim the funding available.

While this option might sound fairer, such an approach could hardly fail to leave itself open to bias, whether unintentional or politically motivated.

But with so many unknowns it’s difficult to gauge which way the 'difficult decision' pendulum is likely to swing. You could say you makes your choice and you claims your money – just don’t rely on it being as much as before.